Ireland is the new hub for TV formats
TV3 boss David McRedmond believes Ireland needs to capitalise overseas on the sale of recent home-produced TV shows
'IRELAND could be the new Israel' was the stand-out comment from MIPTV, the international TV festival in Cannes this week. In the world of TV, this is some accolade.
Israel has become the benchmark for exporting TV formats and scripts, from Homeland to Rising Star and everything in between. Furthermore, the comparison with Ireland was made by an industry guru, Virginie Mouseler, CEO of the renowned The WIT agency. "Keep a close eye on Ireland this year. In terms of formats, it could be the new Israel," she said to cheers from the international audience.
If the comments were good, the business at Cannes was even better. TV3, RTE and several Irish Indies sold shows across the globe. Following a dinner hosted by Keith Barry for industry professionals his Brain Hacker series for TV3 will reach 76 countries (and be dubbed into six languages), according to the distributor DRG. By time of writing, deals were concluded for New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, China, France and several South American countries.
The Lie, recently broadcast in Ireland, may prove even more successful as a format sale and was snapped up in Cannes by France2. Formats (the licensing of the idea, graphics, scripts etc) are the hot currency in TV. There is no reason why the next Apprentice or X-Factor shouldn't originate in Ireland.
Another industry veteran, Peter Rhodes OBE, managing director of Reed Midem, said: "Irish production punches well above its weight at MIPTV. In an age when innovative programmes are being sought after for the international market, there is already talk of Ireland being a great source for great shows."
The positive vibes from Cannes fit Finance Minister Michael Noonan's prescription for Irish economic recovery to rebuild the economy "sector by sector". In the recession almost no sector suffered more than media.
Advertising revenues fell by at least 50 per cent. Several media outlets closed or went into examinership and hundreds of jobs were lost in what has always been a small industry.
At the same time, UK media saw Ireland as a place for low-cost easy pickings, extending franchises with minimal or no investment in Irish content and jobs. Forty-five new TV channels from the UK entered the Irish market to take advantage of a lax licensing regime, inserting Irish ads and bringing the revenues back to the UK. This year alone, nine more UK channels have launched here.
Against this background, TV3, RTE and TG4 have certainly punched above their respective weights. When belts were being tightened, programming budgets were the most preciously protected. In 2012, TV3 opened the largest TV studio on this Island, the TV3/SONY HD Studio, Dublin.
Independent production companies, such as Shinawil, Big Mountain, Loosehorse, Tyrone, Animo, Element Pictures and Sideline, have invested in formats and programme-making for domestic and international sale.
Government policy may also have helped. S481 tax funding has for a while been a mainstay of the film industry in Ireland but its applicability to TV is becoming increasingly relevant. More directly, the Broadcast Authority of Ireland's Sound & Vision scheme has energised the whole sector at a relatively low spend. In 2009, the then minister, Eamonn Ryan, increased the funding of the Sound & Vision scheme from 5 per cent to 7 per cent of the licence fee (the other 93 per cent goes to RTE). These may be small scraps but the seed funding has been well used to stimulate programme makers.
It will take more to convert the optimism from Cannes into real industry growth for indigenous TV production. Both Government and the BAI have to find a solution to the dumping of ad minutes into Ireland by UK broadcasters. This is currently a one-way trade to the detriment of the industry in Ireland. The irony is that Irish broadcasters pay a levy of millions of euro each year to the BAI while foreign channels pay nothing and face no regulation.
Irish free-to-air broadcasters also pay massive transmission fees to provide their signals for free to audiences. As the Government converts the licence fee to a more efficiently collected Broadcast Charge some of the additional revenues should fund the Saorview platform, so Irish broadcasters are not penalised for providing a free signal for viewers.
The Irish channels' free-to-air licences must be cherished and protected by the Government, as indigenous broadcasting is cherished in other EU states. The investment in highly skilled and specialist employment by RTE and TV3 is the bedrock of the AV sector in Ireland.
Finally, the Government's ongoing study of the advertising market should bring reform to see ad prices in Ireland equivalent to the rest of Europe and end below-cost selling, which threatens investment in jobs and content.
Media owners must do more too. Ireland is sub-scale, so content investment depends on extending the market internationally. The scale of investment also requires co-productions. TV3's recent successes have been with STV (Scotland), Gong (Scandinavia), Soshefeigh (Canada), Zodiak and Alaska (UK).
Investment alongside Irish independents increases the relevance for the Irish market, while capturing the broadest skills. Element Pictures, which has a fantastic film pedigree (most recently with The Guard and What Richard Did) can extend its skills into television with TV3's new soap drama. This project alone will create up to 100 full-time jobs for writers, actors, directors and technical crews.
Backing Irish media and Irish TV could be a winner for Government.
- David McRedmond is chief executive of TV3
Sunday Indo Business