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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A manifesto for an International Content Services Centre

This is the final document submitted to Department of Communications, Energy and Natural resources at the start of February. It outlines the vision for an International Content Services Centre based on the input from various stakeholders and contributors to this blog. You can download the PDF here.

A Manifesto for an International Content Services Centre

In his book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe”(Nan A. Talese, 1995), Thomas Cahill outlines how the great monastic settlements of Ireland helped to preserve the classical culture of Europe from being lost during the so-called Dark Ages. The Irish monks became passionate scribes, not only of the scriptures but also of ancient classical texts, ensuring that all the great learning of the Roman age did not irretrievably vanish. In a sense, Ireland between the 6th and 9th centuries became a “knowledge economy” through the painstaking and disciplined work of the disciples of St. Patrick.

Now, over 1500 years later, as we move swiftly from the analogue to the digital age, Ireland has the opportunity to re-define itself as a “knowledge economy”. Whether we save civilization again is up for grabs. The purpose of this document is to outline the opportunity Ireland has in creating an International Content Services Centre (ICSC). The objective of the ICSC is to position Ireland as a major global center of digital content production, management and monetization.
The “digital” equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange for content.

This document is informed by a number of preceding articles (www.calico.ie) and input from various industry experts and interested parties.

INTERNATIONAL CONTENT SERVICES CENTRE – A VISION

The International Financial Services Centre in Dublin is now clearly recognised as being one of the leading economic engines that helped raise Ireland out of the economic mire of the 1980s. As the financial world embraced globalisation, the IFSC provided an efficient solution for the increasing need for brokerage amid the flow of global funds. But that was a different time and a different place.

When we look around us now, one of the clear opportunities is to take advantage of the rapid digitisation of content and offer a global solution for the manifold problems that arise in terms of piracy, technology, storage, distribution and rights clearance. Similar to the way stock exchanges simplified and streamlined the investment in stocks and shares, in the digital media age there exists an opportunity to greatly streamline the distribution, management and monetization of digital media. Where as the ones and zeroes in the IFSC related to financial transactions, here they simply represent ‘content’ – a new global currency, if you will. That is where the value lies.

So what would an International Content Services Centre look like?

Firstly, it would require a distinct geographic location, even if this is just an administrative centre. The potential clients for such a centre are still relatively traditional in outlook and will require a “bricks and mortars” set-up, even for a digitally-based enterprise. For argument’s sake, let us co-locate the ICSC with the IFSC in the Dublin Docklands (U2 Tower is just across the Liffey too). Infrastructure will require the highest national and international connectivity and bandwidth is available, connecting the centre to various content owners data warehouses, located anywhere around Ireland (or even abroad). There would be merit in developing ‘green” data storage facilities, powered by wind farms or wave energy in the future.

It will not be sufficient for the infrastructure to be “good enough”. It must be truly world-leading and available to all companies at the most competitive global rates. We can’t assume we are the only country with this vision so our offering must be imaginative and compete aggressively on all fronts.

Potential clients for the ICSC would include the big global content owners such as Disney, Viacom, Warner Brothers, online games providers such as EA and Activision, online players such as Google, Microsoft and Apple. But just importantly, it will also include smaller indigenous players such as RTE, government content archives, Irish enterprises such as MUZU.TV, DV4, Global DMX, Brown Bag Films, Zamano, Setanta and nascent video on-demand platforms like Volotov.com. Having access to such a centre would have a huge benefit to these indigenous content producers. Clients will also likely include the global service providers and content distributors such as Vodafone, O2, NTL and Sky.

LEGAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES

Within the centre itself, clients will be able to avail of the necessary services to help them exploit their content. On the legal side, the centre will be a clearing house for digital rights, providing the content owners with the legal expertise and technical know-how to assist rights holders in distributing and exploiting their content globally. On the administrative side, the centre will, for example, service the paying out of various royalties - such as music and image rights in a game or film. It will also provide tracking and monitoring services to ensure that copyright isn’t being infringed and warning content owners if it is. Meta-data tagging and watermarking will also be a critical service which will allow content owners describe and monitor their content globally, providing key data for advertising and marketing opportunities to be exploited. In short, the potential for services development are myriad: global digital rights management, metadata tagging, rights clearance, intellectual property management, monitoring, tracking, privacy, taxation, arbitration etc. Ireland could become the center of excellence and expertise in digital content production, management and monetization which would likely attract other ancillary industries e.g. Digital Media R&D

TECHNICAL SERVICES


The Centre will also be a hub for a range of technical solutions for the aggregation, storage, distribution, monetization, monitoring and delivery of content. For example, Amazon’s S3 platform, Video On Demand platforms such as Babelgum, Joost and iTunes, IBM and Microsoft’s Cloud-Computing platform etc. By offering a “one-stop shop” destination for these solutions, the centre will position Ireland as a global hub for the worlds best and most valuable content. Ancillary activities will include Research & Development, enterprise training, networking and academic partnerships to clearly denote Ireland as a “Centre of Excellence” in the area of content.

MANAGING INNOVATION

The Digital Economy is fundamentally different than the old Industrial Economy. The focus now is on collaborative processes, shared resources, teamwork, knowledge sharing, open innovation, communities of practice and value networks. Value in a digital enterprise is largely determined by intangibles such as technical competence, imagination, creativity, ideas and flexibility. However, alongside these, having an ability to invest in, value, finance and apply the appropriate business model to develop digital projects, is equally crucial.

Because a digital age way of thinking and acting is so different than the old, a radical approach to learning will be used in the ICSC and those connected with it. The ICSC needs to be more then just a service provider. It needs to be a “focal point” for innovation and enterprise in the digital content space, providing a “touch-point” for the global market. In order to provide ongoing intellectual support for those engaged on projects, a dynamic learning infrastructure will be put in place. Developed in partnership with existing educational providers, it will nurture a spirit of innovation, stimulate ventures, help individuals understand risk and manage change in a supportive mutual learning network. Quality, initiative, a risk taking attitude and eagerness for self-development will become a core feature in the participants’ professional lives.

A rich and dynamic environment will emerge through the interaction of those from diverse backgrounds such as media studies, financial services, IT, business, the arts, engineering and science drawing on and learning from each other. Innovation programmes will also draw on the creative cultural resources of this country along with the values and identities of recent immigrants, leading to a world renowned cultural dynamic. This education will leverage expertise already available in the IFSC gained by developing programmes there. Such an approach to creating value from projects founded on interactions between digital and financial networks will lead the ICSC to generate an inimitable international competitive advantage for Ireland.

An International Content Services Centre.

THE OPPORTUNITY

• According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), in 2007 20 billion music files were illegally downloaded. In 2008, that went up to 40 billion music files illegally downloaded. At the same time, digital music grew by an estimated 25% and is now worth 3.7 billion dollars in 2008. Digital music now accounts for 20% of recorded music sales, up from 15% in 2007. The ratio between illegal to legal downloads is 10:1.

• The film industry is looking down the barrel of the same gun. In 2006, piracy cost the movie industry $6.1 billion, 75% higher than expected, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

• With over 217 million people playing online games globally (Comscore 2007), there is an enormous opportunity for creating the right environment for locating a hub for this global activity here. We already have a number of success stories located in The Digital Hub such as Goa and GALA Networks, so there is real merit in targeting this area strategically.

• The value of the audiovisual content production sector in Ireland alone is valued at €557.3 million, 0.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), of which the independent sector represents 67% and Broadcasters the remaining 33%. The sector employs 6,905 individuals, 85% in the independent sector and 15% in Broadcasting, which equates to 5,440 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs). An estimated 567 companies operate within the sector comprising production companies, post-production companies and service providers.

• There is a huge opportunity for Ireland to provide a solution to all of this. Digital Content as a commodity provides for a low-cost, high volume business opportunity. In terms of employment, aside from the direct employment from the ICSC, there is the “knock-on” impact on the audio-visual sector (a largely indigenous market) to take advantage of the global market through the ICSC.

• Ancillary benefit of stimulating Innovation and entrepreneurship. Cloud Computing and the services infrastructure offers a low barrier to entry for monetising creative and technical services and products. By instilling this sense of creativity and technical expertise, there is the manifold effect of creating both an audience for the products as well as developers.


REQUIRED ACTIONS

• A working group of stakeholders (legal, content, enterprise, multi-nationals, government etc) convened to flesh out the proposition above. Accordingly, the working group can be divided up into sub-groups such as legal, administrative and technical.

• The IDA’s role and support is critical in terms of outlining the offering and also selling the potential to government and its client base. Tax incentives, business planning, critical infrastructure etc. are all necessary in order to achieve this vision.


CONCLUSION

It is not practical at this point to put a definitive value on the required investment for this vision without further research among the key stakeholders. However, what is fair to say is that the majority of what is required exists in Ireland already – it just hasn’t been brought together under one centralized vision. We have significant legal expertise, broadband capacity, a range of multi-national stakeholders with cloud computing initiatives, a burgeoning digital media enterprise location in The Digital Hub, a dedicated National Digital Research Centre, a progressive Industrial Development Agency and a commitment to becoming a “Smart” economy. All that is required now is that the opportunity outlined is seized and realised and the relevant dots joined on a governmental and enterprise level.

CREDITS


The Digital Media Forum is the largest cluster of Digital Media companies in Ireland that operate across the entire range of Digital Media, namely in the digital film, animation, television, business publishing (including web design), wireless and e-learning areas. Initially comprising companies located in and around the Digital Hub in Dublin, our network has now expanded to embrace over 600 enterprises with over 10,000 employees.

The Digital Media Forum would like to thank the following for their contribution to this document:

Finbarr Bradley, Michael Walsh (Globaldmx.com), Liam Ward & Graeme Kelly (DV4), Andrew Fitzpatrick (Monster Distributes), Andrew McAvinchey, Cathal Gaffney (Brown Bag Films), Alex Klive (WorldTV.com), Johnny Ryan (IIEA), Frederic Herrera (IADT/Create), Ed Melvin (ICANN)

posted by Neil Leyden @ 10:23 a.m. 1 comments