Exhibition highlights hub hopefuls

29 Apr 2004

If you want to get your head around the concept of digital media and where it is going, then you could do worse than make your way to the Digital Depot on Dublin’s Thomas Street any time between now and the end of June. Exhibit5 is a showcase of the emerging sector from an Irish perspective; in it a selection of indigenous digital media companies and university research groups will have their wares on show.

As the name suggests, the current exhibition is the fifth in a series, aimed at publicising the latest developments in digital media, specifically from those companies based in the Digital Hub. The event is happening under the aegis of the Digital Hub development agency, with support from Diageo. The event is also sponsored by Enterprise Ireland (EI).

The selection on show ranges from animation to mobile technology, games and DVD production. It covers internet applications, 3D graphic learning systems, image-synthesis applications and mobile portals. Some of the striking examples include an animation showreel from Jam Media, Kavaleer and Monster Animation. Other standouts include a virtual tour of Dublin City centre, rendered by the Image Synthesis Group at the Trinity College Dublin Department of Computer Science.

The organisers want to found the exhibits on the twin cornerstones of innovation and creativity. Content – as opposed to technology or distribution – gets a special emphasis. It’s thought that this will be Ireland’s main area of expertise in the near term. Related disciplines are anticipated to follow once the sector finds its feet. Simply put, this means creating games, cartoons, films and graphics that other media companies will want to buy or license for use on their platforms.

Some of the companies showcased in the exhibition already have major contracts under their belts; others “are on the brink of great things”, we are told.

Certainly, there’s a lot of effort going on behind the scenes to try and ensure that the work being done by these companies isn’t just taking place in a vacuum (albeit a stylish, well appointed, futuristic looking one).

Many of the companies currently occupying the hub are EI clients. The digital media sector has been specially targeted by EI. The Digital Hub’s proponents talk up the creative cross-pollination that the centre offers. “I hope there will be something close to 3,000 people and a couple of hundred companies based at the Digital Hub, with business being done by groups of those companies with multinationals such as Sony or Nokia,” says Jennifer Condon, director of the National Informatics Directorate with EI.

She speaks of a “whole greater than the sum of its parts” and expresses hopes for the establishment of strong relationships between games companies and games publishers. The vision also revolves around creating relationships between the companies occupying the hub.

Sceptics of the Digital Hub project had expressed doubts as to whether, for example, an animation company can truly learn from (or impart information and experience to) a property-letting site. Daft.ie is a hub tenant and is a successful online venture, but quite how it fits the EI remit is unclear.

Condon counters, pointing out the potential for synergy in other areas: “Many of these companies are targeting the same client base. Sony for example is interested in games, mobile and interactive TV. That’s a unifying thing; we can help that by bringing the right mix together, with companies of similar skill bases and creative skills.”

In another related element of its digital media strategy, EI is fixing its gaze firmly west – coast, that is. The organisation plans to open a full-time office in Los Angeles (LA) with the aim of putting the hub’s hopefuls as close to the action as possible. With LA and Hollywood synonymous with the entertainment business, this is seen as an important building block in establishing Irish companies in what will be a major market.

As if to prove that this transfer works both ways, the Digital Hub’s backers highlighted the arrival of US games developer TKO Software to Ireland. The Digital Hub is to be the company’s new international headquarters. “That’s a crucial element to us in getting the cluster right,” Condon asserts. “It will act as a magnet for more established digital media companies to come here in time.”

By Gordon Smith

Pictured are Philip Flynn, CEO of Digital Hub, and Jennifer Condon, director of the National Informatics irectorate, Enterprise Ireland