On Thursday evening, after a day finalising a new documentary on Brexit and Ireland, which airs on RTÉ One on Monday night, I slumped down, like so many hundreds of thousands of Irish workers, knackered in front of the TV. It was well gone “wine o’clock”, so with a deserved glass in hand, I flicked through the options.
The range of choice these days, from Netflix and Amazon to terrestrial TV, is truly extraordinary. Finally, I decided to watch the end of a compelling documentary series on BBC4 about OJ Simpson. When you know how the story ends, tuning in at episode five is no big deal.
Coming shortly after the Netflix documentary ‘The People v OJ Simpson’, this one was called ‘OJ, Made in America’. An Oscar-winner, the documentary series is about the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman murders, and OJ’s trial, acquittal, subsequent life and the overarching role of race which dominated one of the biggest media events in US history. In truth, it was a media circus as much as a criminal trial.
The quantity of quality TV and film content available to us now is mind-boggling. All around the world, TV and film is a massively growing industry. It is mainly an English-language phenomenon, already worth $130bn per year. The industry is set to grow in double digits as people like us change our viewing habits.
When it comes to film and TV, we are living in an age of great disruption.
In the past, the TV companies (usually large nationalised corporations) and the local cinema cartels controlled the distribution of TV and film content. Not any more. Technology has changed all that. The new players – such as Netflix and Amazon – in cahoots with the broadband providers have turned the TV world on its head and the upshot is that the old monopolies no longer control distribution. People are watching whatever they want, whenever they want.
This is bad news for the old business model, but like so many other disruptions it creates massive opportunities.
And the disruption is not only centered on content distribution, there is also another profound disruption going on and that is the end of patience. When I was a boy, the “Who shot JR?” slogan captured the nation. It was a cross-cultural mania: my Mass-going granny in West Cork demanded to know “Who shot JR” as did my wife’s strict Presbyterian grandmother in rural Antrim. What they had in common was patience — the patience to wait for the next series of ‘Dallas’ to find out what happened.
Nowadays, people want a box set to binge on. The notion of the cliffhanger gripping a nation for months on end is gone as we binge on three episodes in a row until, delirious from lack of sleep, we realise it’s 2am on a school night and we are addicted to “just one more episode”.
This is the new way of consuming TV and film.
The younger you are, the less patience you have. The end of patience implies that more and more content is being made, watched and discarded. But it is being consumed and because the model of consuming has changed where we pay subscriptions, the demand for content will be as voracious as the sum of our appetites.
This disruption in the production, distribution and consumption of TV and film provides an amazing opportunity for creative industries here in Ireland. Hollywood is bursting at capacity and giant American studios are scouring the world for ideal locations to make TV. Why not Ireland?
The other day walking through Dublin Airport, I marvelled to myself at the outrageous success of Ryanair. What right had a country like Ireland, with no history in aviation manufacturing, to end up having the biggest airline company in Europe? Had you suggested such a thing two or three decades ago, people would have thought you were bonkers, but it happened. Ryanair is the biggest operator in Europe by a country mile.
If Ireland can host the largest airline operator in Europe, why not the largest film and TV business in time?
Arguably, we are much better suited to build on an existing film and TV industry, and one that is already vibrant. Last year, Ireland had an embarrassment of riches at the Oscars’ top table.
Imagine if those movies had been made here as well as being driven by Irish creative talent?
For years, the Irish film and TV industries have been quasi-extractive. By this I mean Irish talent was often extracted out of here and fused with American or British capital, to write and star in films or series that were produced elsewhere.
So why not aim to produce it here and keep the value added in Ireland? Sometimes an industry makes sense for a country.
However, you can’t just produce films and TV series without the infrastructure. As someone who sometimes makes documentaries, it’s clear that over the past few years advances in technology mean studios are replacing locations. In film, this move is much more evident. So to be in with a shout of getting some of this global business, Dublin needs a state-of-the-art studio.
This is why the decision taken on Thursday by Dublin City Council to set aside space for a world-class film studio in the new Poolbeg special development zone is such an encouraging one.
The City Council voted unanimously to include the site for a large Hollywood-style movie studio down in Poolbeg just beneath the iconic Pigeon House towers.
This is an excellent decision and one that shows real vision for the future of the city as a destination for high-end content, creative people as well as lots of other jobs. You might not realise that it takes loads of different types of workers to make films and TV, from painters and decorators, carpenters and set designers, to scriptwriters, musicians, actors and directors as well as accountants, lawyers and money men.
It’s a huge intertwined and overlapping ecosystem.
By setting aside space for this type of studio, the Council has shown true ambition for the city. This move could well be seen as the creative and artistic version of the setting up of the IFSC.
You need the vision to see that things can be done and you need luck in terms of whether your timing is right. Thirty years ago, the global finance industry was in its infancy, today it is huge and the IFSC gamble paid off. The omens for making TV and film globally now look much more attractive.
The Poolbeg studios could be the idea whose time has come.