Its been a long time coming but finally a combined broadcasting regulator for both the public and commercial sectors in Ireland has arrived. From this month the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) becomes the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). It is the same place and largely the same people but underneath a lot is changing as the new broadcasting act takes effect and brings the once divided worlds of RTE and the independent commercial sector closer. The BAI will replace the RTE Authority, the Ministerial appointed body which governs RTE and to which the Executive board of RTE reports. The current Authority will integrate into the new board of the BAI ( to be chaired by former RTE DG Bob Collins) and over the coming year we will begin to see changes as the regulation of both RTE and its competitors, like TV3 and Today FM, comes together. For most listeners and viewers the switch over won’t mean much. They shouldn’t notice anything different. For the organisations it will mean a bit of re-thinking as the changes roll through but that will be healthy for the sector. For the BAI, the emerging BAI, its a significant step-up in terms of operations and one can only imagine the amount of charts being drawn and re-drawn at the moment.
The new organisation also has a slightly bigger pot of funding with the new broadcasting act slicing 7% off the TV licence (was 5%) under the Sound and Vision Scheme. The change combines with a review of Sound and Vision and how it is operating and many in the independent sector, both TV and radio producers, will be following those changes closely and hoping that it leads to an electronic commissioning system like Proteus in the BBC which cuts out the acres of dead trees which are presently being created by Sound and Vision Radio and TV rounds where 4-6 copies of everything need to be supplied in paper form. One of the pressures on Sound and Vision is to remain committed to independent production and to enriching the creativity of the sector by supporting diverse and challenging projects which would not normally be made without the support of the fund. With pressures on budgets many in broadcasting stations are now using the fund to support internal production and are relunctant to support independent ideas as the funding goes to the independent producers who ultimately remain the rights holders. For the broadcasting and digital media sectors in Ireland to grow we need producers to have rights returned to them so they can develop, mature and ideally export their content internationally.
It is encouraging to see the significant level of funding the recent TV round awarded to Irish independent film and TV makers, We’re fortunate to be one of the 13 companies who, this time round, got a Yes for our Pat Falvey documentary project. We’ll be telling you more about that along the way. It is often a tough battle to get funding and in this case we got a yes on the second submission after we had re-worked the concept and taken on board the feedback from the review panel. Our broadcaster Setanta Ireland has also had a tough year and again its good to see two projects from this round going into Setanta as its in everyone’s interest to see a strong and vibrant TV sector. Sound and Vision, under the BAI, has the opportunity to ensure the fund makes outstanding programming but also to ensure that independent production houses grow. One of the real strengths the scheme offers independent programmer makers is that they remain the ultimate rights holders and can benefit from any long term exploitation of their ideas and work. A stronger intellectual rights basis is the key to the future growth of the creative industries as Neil Leyden from the Digital Media Forum has outlined in his proposal to create an IFSC type rights clearance house in Dublin. To assist that broadcasters, like RTE and TV3, need to recognise that its in everyone’s interests that producers gain more returns from their work and from any exploitation of their work. Without that independent production will remain fragile and under-resourced. A loss not just for the sector, in terms of ideas and creativity, but also for Ireland in terms of its creative future.
The BAI can assist this was supporting research on IP and the creative industries and by becoming a force which independently looks at the future of broadcasting, including online, and drawing on international case studies. One of the major advantages of the broadcasting regulation integration in the UK, which created OfCom, has been the commitment to research and media literacy. The opportunity here is that the BAI is more than a name change for the BCI but contains the potential to future proof the broadcasting and creative industries for the benefit of everyone in the country.