Last night I was asked by an investor in digital content about what I was doing for bonfire night. Was I spending it with family? Was I going to a community event? And I had to explain that we, in Northern Ireland, don’t really celebrate Bonfire Night. Or, rather, we do, but we might do it at another time of the year. This was a realisation on her part that Northern Ireland is a breed apart – that it’s part of the UK but it’s not really the same as the rest of the UK. That said – who wouldn’t want to celebrate with fireworks and fires in a cross community event.
This lack of cultural alignment is mirrored in regulatory alignment lapses. While some of these are being remedied (mostly due to the complete lack of political leadership here at home), we are reminded in almost every walk of life that Northern Ireland is an outlier in many areas from the rest of the UK and certainly culturally different from the rest of the Irish island.
Talking earlier this year with digital and IT companies in the west of the province, they were sanguine about Brexit collapsing – and their predictions seem to be coming to pass. There’s never been an issue that so successfully divided us and the political and legal systems are simply not up to the job of coping with it. This upcoming election leaves us in more uncertainty, not less.
But the strength of Northern Irish digital companies is they survive. They adapt. And the future belongs to those who are quick to adapt to new circumstances. It’s always prudent to invest your way out of adversity.
Over the last few years, the investment in digital content companies in Northern Ireland has risen. Yes, we can bemoan the loss of CIIF, but over a million pounds a year is pumped into digital content companies via Northern Ireland Screen and the Pixel Mill. Half a decade ago, that would have been undreamt of. And the companies who are thriving are those who respond to this rapidly. There are a couple of huge projects in production (though I’m not sure if I’ve been cleared to talk about them – more in a later update!) here in Northern Ireland. It’s not Rockstar, it’s not GTA VI, but for Northern Ireland’s nascent industry, they’re huge.
If you’re creating digital content (the crossroads where art meets code), then you should investigate the Pixel Mill and NI Screen. There’s more interesting stuff happening in Northern Ireland’s digital content sector than anything happening in Westminster! (But yeah, please get out and vote!)