Covid-19: Streaming services must contribute to Irish film industry

EU directive entitles Ireland to tax media business targeting Irish audiences

 Stella cinema: At least 12 EU countries impose levies or financial contribution on all screen content revenues raised in their countries to fund their creative industries. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Stella cinema: At least 12 EU countries impose levies or financial contribution on all screen content revenues raised in their countries to fund their creative industries. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The reopening of cinemas around the country will come as very welcome news to both cinema lovers and the Irish creative screen industry. Throughout the various levels of Covid-19 restrictions imposed since March, many of us have passed time, found respite and been entertained watching films and TV dramas on streaming platforms, and the choice of both platforms and content has never been so vast.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the on-demand streaming platforms are hugely popular here and more are entering the market all the time. We are living through an extraordinary disruption of Ireland’s creative screen industries, and one that has been further accelerated by Covid-19.

Annie Doona is chairwoman of Screen Ireland

In the darkest days of the first lockdown, we came together as a country to watch Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, Normal People. Equally, stories such as Cartoon Saloon’s upcoming feature film Wolfwalkers will provide audiences with a terrific cinematic experience.

What remains true is that it is important to always be able to tell our own powerful stories, on the big or small screen, to be enjoyed by Irish and international audiences.

It is important to always be able to tell our own powerful stories, on the big or small screen

However, if you knew that the vast majority of all screen content revenues raised in Ireland leave Ireland without benefiting Irish audiences or industry, I’m sure you would wonder if that was just or sustainable. Screen content revenues include revenues like subscriptions to on-demand streaming platforms, pay TV and advertisements on non-Irish based broadcasters and operators.

Screen Ireland is the development agency for Irish film, TV and animation, so naturally we are always focused on creating the best possible environment for the screen creative talent here to continue to grow and thrive, especially with the challenges now facing the industry. It is incumbent on us all to leverage every available opportunity to continue to grow and support our home-grown creative talent. A recent EU directive called the audio-visual media services directive provides our industry with a vehicle to do just that and will soon be considered by Government as part of the updated Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

Production levy

In summary, under this directive, member states like Ireland are entitled to require international media service providers targeting Irish audiences, such as on-demand streaming services, to contribute to the production of original Irish and European content, by way of a production levy or financial contribution.

Pauric Travers, the chair of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, said as far back as 2018 that “The existing regulatory structure and funding model require an overhaul. As part of that overhaul, ways need to be found to ensure that providers who take revenue from the Irish market give something back in return, in terms of appropriate content or otherwise.”

The directive requires video on-demand services to promote the production and distribution of “European works” by ensuring their catalogues must contain at least 30per cent European works and that they are given sufficient prominence in those catalogues.

I am a proud European and as well as being an ardent fan of Irish film, TV and animation, and I’m also an avid consumer of content from across the world. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive, in my view. However, I also believe that we must do whatever we can to future proof our own industry.

Culture and storytelling

Our understanding is that the Government is currently working on transposing the directive into Irish legislation and we would support the timely execution of this process. This was also a recommendation in the recently published Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce Report. I am not exaggerating when I say that the future of Irish culture and storytelling on screen depends on it.

The future of Irish culture and storytelling on screen depends on it

We estimate that every year, in excess of a billion euro is paid by Irish audiences and Irish advertisers to content services not located here. At least 12 EU countries already impose levies or financial contribution on all screen content revenues raised in their countries, to fund their creative industries. Ireland must follow their lead, and that of the EU, by introducing a production levy or financial contribution here. To do any less would be the negation of duty towards a thriving creative screen sector that has a gross added value of €1.04 billion and is directly responsible for more than 16,930 jobs.

With cinemas reopening this week and with all the necessary public health measures in place, audiences will begin to return to enjoy the unique experience that the big screen offers. The small screen experience will always play an important role in screen entertainment, but it is critical that we all work together to ensure that Irish audiences continue to have access to a wide diversity of content, and to content that reflects Irish stories on screen.

International companies that benefit most from screen content revenues raised in Ireland must make a contribution to ensure the Irish creative screen industries continues to thrive into the future.

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