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Screen Ireland CEO James Hickey Calls for Streaming Services Tax Levy
23 Jul 2019 : News Desk
Outgoing Screen Ireland CEO James Hickey
Hickey has asserted that subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) companies, such as Netflix and Amazon, should pay taxes in order to fund Irish-produced screen content.

The outgoing Screen Ireland Chief Executive has intimated that the Irish Government should introduce levying audio-visual services that are not based within State, yet target Irish audiences. Under the European Union’s audio-visual media services directive, levies of this nature would be allowed provided they be made law by September 2020.

Such reform would mean that the State could introduce taxes on British broadcasters selling advertising in Ireland, as well as streaming services provided by the likes of American multi-nationals Netflix and Amazon Prime. 

Mr. Hickey said that the Government “…should be looking at levies and contributions from all of these providers,” further adding that “Over the next year, (the reform) is really important” in relation to the September 2020 deadline. In addition to Hickey’s comments, Screen Ireland’s submission to a recent Department of Communications consultation stated that it “strongly supports levies for content funding of Irish stories for Irish audiences”, affirming that said levies should go towards Irish projects both domestically and internationally.

In Budget 2019, Minster for Culture, Arts and The Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, allocated an additional €2 million to Screen Ireland, increasing its annual budget by 11% overall to €20 million. This additional funding comes in the wake of the Government’s funding pledge, promising to award €200 million in capital funding to Screen Ireland over 10 years, from 2018 to 2027.

Mr. Hickey, however, maintains that the industry remains underfunded:

“In my view, it would be really important that we would get a significant uplift for 2020 in order for us to fulfill our remit. If I was honest, I’m sure by the time we get to 2024, 2025, 2026, Screen Ireland would be looking for even more, because who knows what the industry will look like by then.

But I certainly welcome the Government’s commitment to €200 million over 10 years, and I believe that we will be delivering results that will show it should be at least that, if not more.”

A significant amount of Minister Madigan’s 11% increase in budget was used to fund original content development for television, including Virgin Media Television crime drama Darklands and Element Pictures’ BBC-commissioned adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People. The Screen Ireland Chief Executive, however, maintained that this was not enough to support television drama development in Ireland, with only €2 million of the organisations fund available for the initiative.  

Furthermore, Screen Ireland has submitted that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) Sound & Vision fund, is “not responding to the urgent needs of the creative and audio-visual sector” in its distribution of roughly €12 million a year from license fee receipts to television and radio producers.

The central complaint of Screen Ireland asserts that only commissions from free-to-air broadcasters can avail of the funds, excluding funding for production companies with ambitions to pitch to the likes of Netflix. Mr. Hickey elaborated on this complaint, eluding to the BAI acting as both a regulator and fund administrator:

“If the BAI does become the regulator of not only broadcasters in Ireland but also subscription video-on-demand services and user-generated content services, you have to ask yourself the question do they really have the headspace and time to be dealing with a production fund as well.”

James Hickey will conclude his eight-year term as Screen Ireland Chief Executive in August, being succeeded by former senior marketing executive at Warner Bros Pictures, Désirée Finnegan.




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