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Content levy nears reality for screen sector as legislation enters final stages of Government review
30 Nov 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Minister Catherine Martin
Screen Ireland and the industry group of stakeholders advocating for the proposed content levy have welcomed the positive position adopted by the Minister Catherine Martin in recognising the vital role of independent producers with respect to the levy plans that reached its report and final stages in the Dáil on Wednesday.

The Oireachtas debated the final stages of the Online Media Safety and Regulation Bill in an effort to agree a new content levy for Ireland.

Areas being explored within the levy legislation would see that 80% of all investments from the contestable fund being allocated to projects with independent producers attached; the introduction of a development fund to provide funding for project development; 25% of fund being allocated to Irish language productions; and an introduction of new rules to govern IP ownership deals between producers and streamer for projects funded by the new levy fund, enabling a return of investment for the producer.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media also confirmed that Screen Ireland will have a key role in the work of fund alongside the new Media Commission, Coimisiún na Meán. “The commission, following consultation with Fís Éireann, may prepare a scheme for funds to be granted, out of the proceeds of any levy,” one amendment read out in the Dáil.

In a statement issued by Screen Ireland, the national funding agency said: “The Board and Executive of Fís Éireann sincerely thank Minister Catherine Martin TD for her steadfast and meaningful engagement on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill as it reaches Report and Final Stage in Dáil Éireann. We would like to thank her for recognising the transformative potential of this legislation, and in particular the potential impact of the content production scheme on the Irish creative screen industry. The provisions within this Bill will help preserve European cultural diversity on screen, supporting both the production and prominence of European audiovisual works into the future.”

“These amendments recognise key areas of importance that have contributed to the industry's success to date and remain vital to sustained future growth. The Irish sector relies on the talent and commitment of countless creative professionals, including writers, directors, producers, composers, actors and crew among many others, and these amendments acknowledge the collective value of their contributions.”

“The inclusion of ‘development' activity in the amendments is essential to enable the continuous development of Irish creative concepts and ideas into viable screen projects that are market-ready.”

“The recognition of the importance of intellectual property retention within the terms and conditions of any scheme will help empower the Irish independent production sector and the allocation of funds outlined underscores the vital role of the Irish independent producer.”

“The allocation of funding for the Irish language is also a welcome inclusion to ensure the continued growth of local language audiovisual production, supporting the ongoing development of regional hubs.”

“We would like to acknowledge the work undertaken by the Joint Creative Audiovisual Sectoral Group comprising RTÉ, TG4, Screen Producers Ireland, Animation Ireland, Writers Guild of Ireland, Screen Directors Guild of Ireland and Screen Composers Guild of Ireland, providing the collective industry view supporting the transposition of the Directive.”

“As we continue to co-produce and work alongside our European partners, we believe this Bill will support and protect the future of the creative screen sector in Ireland. We look forward to working with Coimisiún na Meán to ensure that Ireland continues its remarkable trajectory as a global production hub and a thriving environment for Irish cultural storytelling on screen.”

The aforementioned industry group of stakeholders from the Irish audiovisual sector have advocated for the introduction of a content levy for some time as the investment from international PayTV and VOD services into the Irish industry were not seen to go far enough towards the creation of original Irish content.

At present, Irish audiences pay circa €600 million every year to PayTV and VOD services such as Sky, Netflix, and Disney - most of whose headquarters reside outside of the country. The argument put forward is that these services contribute little to the development and production of original stories on screen by Irish writers and directors. 

“The levy represents a tremendous opportunity to solve the kind of existential threat that is posed by the changes in the marketplace and the exit of Britain from the EU,” Hugh Farley, director of the Writers’ Guild of Ireland told IFTN back in April. “We have the great misfortune of being adjacent to the most efficient manufacturer and distributor of creative content in Europe. However, there is an opportunity and that is through the levy, which is provided for in the 2018 AVMS directive.”

Read our full interview discussing the potential impact of the content levy with Writers’ Guild of Ireland Director, Hugh Farley.

The EU passed the AVMS Directive in 2018, which allows EU Member States to put in place a levy on PayTV and VOD services, based on their turnover, as long as they are targeting Irish audiences. “It's a tax on their profits, but it is not a tax on the taxpayer. It costs the taxpayer nothing. And that's, I think, a really significant thing,” Farley explains. “It's not the same as a TV licence.”

The idea is that money collected via the levy can then be used to fund Irish stories by Irish creative talent. These levies already exist in other EU Member States examples of implemented levies being seen in France (5.15%) and Germany (2.5%).

Some fear however that any taxation could ultimately result in knock-on costs being felt by consumers who would incur any addition costs placed on these subscription services. “That's highly unlikely in a competitive market,” Farley states, “but it's certainly there to try and rattle politicians who might be cautious to enter into this Levy.”

The Joint Creative Audiovisual Sectoral Group commissioned a report from consultants, Indecon, which concluded that based on a 3% levy, there would be an annual fund of at least €24m available for Irish films and TV series.

Susan Kirby, CEO of Screen Producers Ireland welcomed the Minister’s news: “These new rules show the commitment that the Department, the Media Commission, and Screen Ireland are giving to the Irish independent production sector to ensure that funding from the content levy will help to create original, Irish content for both Irish and international audiences on global platforms. We are grateful to the cross political party Oireachtas Media Committee who have been very supportive of the introduction of a content levy, and recommended such in their pre-legislative scrutiny report earlier this year. I’d like to thank my colleagues and peers in the wider advocacy group, working together towards a common goal that has the potential to benefit the entire sector has proven successful. I look forward to working alongside one another as the plans are finalised and actioned.”

Coimisiún na Meán intends to be fully operation by February 2023, by which time an executive chairperson of the commission, an online safety commissioner, a broadcast commissioner, and a media development commissioner will all be in place. At that stage, it is expected that a regulator will complete a report on the viability of the proposed content levy, which the Minister may or may not approve.

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