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Monday, October 05, 2009

Innovation Dublin: the ICSC vision

The following is a blog post I wrote for Innovation Dublin

In January of 2009, I wrote an article for Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Ireland magazine putting forward a vision for an International Content Services Centre (ICSC). The analogy with the successful International Financial Service Centre (or IFSC) located in the Dublin Docklands was a purposeful one. During the 1980s, finance became a global commodity and digitisation meant that the back office functions of a bank could be geographically dislocated from the front office. Ireland, by creating a tax-incentivised location, took advantage of this opportunity and created an economic powerhouse for the Irish economy.

In a sense, content is going through the same metamorphosis as finance did two decades ago. Digitisation and technology have meant that content has become an easily traded global commodity. The opportunity is now there to create a central location that could facilitate those global transactions.

To the credit of the Minister of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan and his Chief Technology Advisor, Barry McSweeney, they picked up on the idea and have put it forward as one of six “Technology Actions for the Smart Economy”. Currently, we are going through the strategic planning phase for this project.

The International Content Services Centre concept is predicated on the idea that all content (film, television, newspapers, books, music, imagery etc.) now exists in a digital format. In effect, it has become binary: ones and zeros. Through the internet it can flow easily on a global level between anyone with a suitable web connection. However, much of this content has rights ownership attached, which places a legal impediment on its distribution.

The ICSC would facilitate the brokerage of those rights to ensure the free trade of content between consumers and also ensure that rights holders are reimbursed “fairly” for use and consumption of their content. In a nutshell, it would specialise in localisation, rights clearance and management, storage, distribution and collection associated with the trade of content globally.

One of the motivating factors behind the ICSC concept was the realisation that in Europe, fractured rights issues and territorialisation of content have made it very difficult to sell indigenous content across borders. For example, you can’t watch The Late Late Show legally outside of Ireland. In fact, the majority of RTÉ’s output is not cleared to be broadcast outside of Ireland. The same goes for most European content too. This, I believe, may have cataclysmic consequences for European culture in the long run. We have already seen the supremacy of US content in the film, television and games industries globally and this is in a world where the majority of content is still shipped in hard-copy format, be it on DVD or on celluloid print.

As we hurtle into the digital age, it will become even easier for US content to be distributed widely – and the hegemony of that culture will grow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against US cultural forms. In fact, I’m a big fan of their content. But I believe in a world of choice and variety and it would be a shame to see European content “ghettoised” due to easily overcome rights issues.

I had the pleasure of recently presenting this vision to the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh. One of the points made there – not in criticism, necessarily – was that this was a vastly ambitious project. Although, I don’t accept that its ambition is a weakness, I have begun to clarify the vision. In the short-term, the scale would be limited to servicing Europe, Middle East and Africa in much the same way as technology and software companies such as Microsoft, eBay and IBM have headquartered their European operations here. The ICSC would act as a gateway for US content into Europe and also as a hub for European content being traded back into the US.

So what might the ICSC look like? Well, my vision is of a Dublin Docklands location which will attract the premier content rights holders in the world: Getty Images, Disney, EA Games, Warner Brothers, Sony, etc.

That these companies will host their content throughout the many cloud-computing centres located all around Ireland, creating employment in service areas such as storage, legal rights, localisation and transaction.

That in turn, indigenous Irish companies such as Muzu.TV, DV4, RTÉ and Brown Bag Films (to name but a few) would avail of these services to exploit their own content globally, acting as a vehicle for Irish culture and innovation and making Ireland a powerhouse in terms of content creation. I’m not just talking about the culture of Riverdance, W.B Yeats or The Quiet Man, which is all well and good. I’m talking more importantly about the contemporary culture that’s emerging all around us and which can be seen at the Darklight Film Festival, in the burgeoning games industry, on social networks like Bebo and Facebook, among new music industry practitioners exploiting digital connectivity and emerging entrepreneurs creating Web 2.0 and mobile applications.

First and foremost, the International Content Services Centre will be a facility for global content, aimed at securing foreign direct investment in this country for an emerging digital content sector. But potentially, it may also act as the vehicle for Irish content (or content from Ireland, if you see the distinction) to be relayed around the world.

For more info on the ICSC go to

posted by Neil Leyden @ 9:33 p.m.


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