Levy talk is all the rage in the Irish audio-visual sector. When it's not the industry levy that will part-fund the Media Commission that is up for debate, it's the turn of the mooted content levy, through which subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) giants like Netflix, Prime Video and Disney Plus, and pay-TV companies such as Sky, could be obliged to contribute to the creation of Irish screen content.
The EU’s revised audio-visual services media directive allows for such levies to be introduced, so the Government’s Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill duly contains a provision that would subject companies targeting Irish audiences to a levy to throw a percentage of their Irish revenues into a pot of money for “feature films, animation and drama on Irish culture, heritage and experience”.
Not only could this massively boost the audio-visual sector, the spin-off potential for tourism – as witnessed through the Game of Thrones phenomenon in the North – is eye-catching.
But "head 77" of the general scheme of the Bill has a caveat attached: the Government wants to first undertake research to ensure a levy "would be of sufficient benefit". In the meantime, some nine EU countries are already imposing financial contributions on on-demand platforms that target their audiences, as RTÉ director of strategy Rory Coveney observed at an Oireachtas committee hearing this week.
RTÉ is not alone in believing funds from such a levy could “provide an invaluable stimulus” for Irish production. Irish producers, naturally, feel the same way.
Indeed, RTÉ, TG4, Screen Producers Ireland and Animation Ireland are among the members of an alliance known as the Joint Creative Audio-visual Sectoral Group, which wants work to "begin immediately" on the establishment of National Creative Content Fund.
The legislation should set a commencement date of January 1st, 2023, for levy collection to begin, the group says. This would mean that revenue could be “shared with Irish content makers” from 2024.
Its submission to the Oireachtas committee, backed by more than 100 pages of analysis from consultants Indecon, cites the "very fast development" of the US-controlled SVOD market in the Republic from zero in 2010 to an estimated €66 million in 2020. Chances are those revenues will be somewhat larger by the time any content levies become a reality.