Major cash injection for Ireland’s digital media future

12 Dec 2008

Crucial decisions in terms of tax incentives and government funding will provide strong impetus to Ireland’s sound and vision industries as they aspire to take their place in the emerging digital media marketplace.

IBEC’s Audiovisual Federation yesterday welcomed the new improvements to the Irish tax incentive for film Section 481, announced by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Martin Cullen TD, at the launch of its 2008 Audiovisual Federation Review.

In addition, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resource, Eamon Ryan TD, announced that he will increase funding for the Sound and Vision programme by 2pc on the previous allocation. One of the primary amendments made to the bill, this increase will bring total investment in Ireland’s independent television production to almost €15.5m in 2009.

The Sound and Vision programme, delivered by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI), offers funding to independent television producers for various genres of programming, including documentaries, children’s programming and film-production. Previous projects which received funding from the fund include the films Kings, Garageand 32A, as well as children’s television series Aifric.

“The independent production sector is an important creative source, as well as a significant employer,” Minister Ryan said.

“This increase in the Sound and Vision fund from 5 to 7pc, combined with the increase in the RTÉ statutory independent production spend to €40m from €32m a year, gives some certainty to this sector in a tougher economic climate.”

The IBEC Audiovisual Federation 2008 Review revealed that 265 audiovisual productions were completed in Ireland in 2007, with a total production value of €195.7m.

Although these figures mark a significant reduction on the overall 2006 production figures of €279.8m, estimated figures for 2008 confirm that the industry has returned to strong levels of production, with an overall estimated value of €246m.

Audiovisual Federation director Tommy McCabe said: “The analysis in the report is divided under three headings: film, television and animation. The 2007 report shows a downturn in feature-film productions, but a continuing strong performance in TV and major TV drama productions, as well as a consistent growth in animation.”

With regard to film, production activity in 2007 declined to €19.3m, a reduction of 77pc on 2006. It is estimated that the level of production activity for feature films will increase to €64m in 2008, but this is still significantly below levels achieved in earlier years, and confirms the overall loss of growth in international feature-film activity.

“It is hoped that the improvements to Section 481 will increase the level of international productions in Ireland next year,” McCabe said.

Local Irish film production activity has maintained continuous growth over this period, as result of funding made available through the Irish Film Board and the BCI.

The profile and success of Irish indigenous production is currently very high, with Oncewinning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Falling Slowly, Best Foreign Film Award at Independent Spirit Awards, and Eden winning a Best Actress Award (Eileen Walsh) at the Tribeca Film Festival.

A continuation of this dramatic reduction in inward production activity would have had a serious negative impact on the level of experienced personnel and infrastructure, which in turn would have been a significant restriction on indigenous development.

“We welcome the decision by the Government to extend Section 481 to 2012 and provide the necessary enhancements to this incentive in the Finance Bill in order to restore competitiveness,” explained Kevin Moriarty, managing director of Ardmore Studios and chairman of the Audiovisual Federation Database Committee, which produced the report.

“This indicates the Government’s commitment to the industry. We believe that these measures should facilitate a return to growth for the Irish Film and Television industry, resulting in increased economic activity, an injection of foreign currency into the economy, the creation of employment and significant tourism profile.”

Television has shown a more substantial increase, with a consistent upward trend in recent years, which has continued into 2008. Irish spend in 2007 reached €154m, compared to €143.8m in 2006. Major television productions included The Tudorsand Rós na Rún and The Clinic.

Animation in Ireland has shown consistent growth in recent years with the sector now the largest provider of full-time and permanent employment in the film and television independent sector. Total output in 2007 reduced to €22.4m, compared to €51.4m in 2006.

The estimate for 2008 is €37m. These figures highlight the difficulties faced by this significant sector in a highly competitive international market. The adequacy of tax incentives, funding opportunities and commissions will all play an essential role if the earlier growth in this sector is to be continued. Animation productions included Shunk Fu, Oliviaand Ballybradden.

“The Government has been very supportive in maintaining competitiveness in the past through the Section 481 film tax-relief scheme and the Irish Film Board’s International Production Fund,” said Andrew Lowe, director of Element Pictures and vice-chairman of the Audiovisual Federation.

“The current amendments contained in the Finance Bill, providing certainty and restoring competitiveness, not only continue this support but also demonstrate the Government’s willingness to respond to the changing international competitive landscape,” Lowe added.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the success of Once is a testament to the rising profile of Irish indigenous film production

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years