The Impact of Creative Industries on A Nation's Wider Economy (Case Study: Game of Thrones on Northern Ireland)


The three highest contributing creative industries in the United Kingdom (UK) sectors are (1) publishing; (2) advertising; and (3) television & radio (DCMS, 2011). However, the global creative industry research proves that television sectors produce the highest revenue of all the sectors with the annual total of $ 477 billion in 2013 (EY, 2015). In order to gain sharper insight about the socioeconomic impact, this paper narrows down the focus to the most emerging industries, which is television and specify the context to television series. To compliment the research, a case study of Game of Thrones (GOT) television series and its impact on Northern Ireland will be examined.

The aim of this research is to understand the relationship between creative industries, cultural policy, and their wider socioeconomic impact to a country. The aim is equipped with 3 research questions: (1) what are the cultural policies issued by Northern Ireland’s government to support GOT industry; (2) what are the impacts of GOT industry to Northern Ireland; and (3) how does the application of the chosen cultural policies influence the resulting impacts?

To build a theoretical framework, a literature review is conducted in subjects related to the impact of creative industries from books and academic journals. As for the research, the primary data is gathered from the open data of governments’ policy documents, mainly from Northern Ireland Screen (NIS), Northern Ireland Tourism (NIT), and Discover Northern Ireland (DNI).

This paper is structured as follows. Firstly, several interrelated theories will be discussed as a knowledge base for further research. Secondly, some critical information related to Game of Thrones and Northern Ireland’s history will be described to illustrate the case’s background. Thirdly, the data findings in the cultural policies of Northern Ireland will be explained, which include policies in (1) funding; (2) skill-building; (3) marketing; and (4) city branding. Fourthly, the findings will be analysed to unveil various impacts of the television series industry. The analysis comprises of these impacts: (1) screen tourism; (2) urban regeneration; and (3) employment. Lastly, in the conclusion, the connection between the cultural policies and the impacts will be summarised.

The idea of creative industries as a part of UK government’s plans and policies was introduced by Tony Blair in 1997 with the establishment of Creative Industries Task Force (CITF) as a project of UK DCMS. Since then, the creative industries development in the UK has been showing significant impact in terms of national economic growth. DCMS (2011) noted that the annual growth rates of the creative economy are twice higher than the traditional economy, hence it possesses the high potential to be developed as a source of a nation’s wealth in the future.

To measure the growth of creative industries in a specific term, DCMS (1998; 2011) mapped the creative industries into 13 sectors based on the output. It is important to notice that beside DCMS, there are other think tanks and researchers who criticised current sectors’ division and proposed another theory, such as Nesta (2006), The Work Foundation (2007), UNCTAD (2008); Throsby (2001) Hesmondhalgh (2007), and Flew (2012). Mainly, they argued that some subjects must be included or excluded from the creative industries.

For instance, Flew (2012) claimed that galleries, libraries, archives, and museums should be included in the creative industries’ segments because they are part of cultural institutions, while Hesmondhalgh (2007) stated the urge to include tourism. In spite of those arguments, DCMS is the only one who has succeeded to measure the detailed growth of creative industries in each sector as illustrated below. The highlighted industries produced the three highest Gross Value Added in 2009. Furthermore, the blank space is originally from the document which indicates the unavailability of intended data.

Table 1. Economic Contribution of the UK's Creative Industries
(DCMS, 2011)

DCMS (2011, p.6) measured the creative industries growth based on 5 factors: ‘(1) Gross Value Added (GVA); (2) total exports; (3) employment; (4) creative enterprises; and (5) creative local units’. This method of measurement is in line with similar theory from Daubaraite and Startiene (2015, p.130). Moreover, they added other non-tangible impacts of creative industries, namely: ‘(1) social inclusion; (2) social and cultural development; and (3) increasing quality of life’. Measuring these non-tangible impacts need a qualitative rather than quantitative approach, therefore it is harder to justify the success.

Apart from the outstanding achievement of creative industries itself, there is some discussion related to the creative industries’ impacts on the wider national economic wealth in growth model theory (Garnham, 2005; Potts and Cunningham, 2008) and the creative people as the main drivers of contemporary economic growth (Florida, 2002). In regard to these theories, creative industries are hypothesised to generate the spill-over effect (Lee, 2014). Beside internal growth, it acts as a growth catalyst for other non-creative industries too. In such way, creative industries development is not only suitable for the richest countries. On the contrary, developing creative industries will influence the whole nation’s economy to thrive and prosper. Lee (2014, p.455) simplified this in his three channels theory, which declares:
(1) creative industries are attractive simply as growth sector […]; (2) creative industries may increase productivity in other sectors […]; and (3) creative industries may have an amenity value and attract skilled residents or, more prosaically, tourist.

The wider impact of creative industries is also related to the growth of employment, whether it is inside or outside the field. This is caused by what Higgs and Cunningham (2008, p. 15) observed as the ‘creative trident’. The concept classifies employment in creative industries into 3 clusters:
(1) workers with cultural profession working in cultural sectors; (2) workers having a cultural profession but working outside the cultural sector; and (3) workers having a non-cultural profession and working in the cultural sector.

This concept explains that the occupation in creative industries is not solely for creative people, but it is able to attract workers from the supporting field and harness the empowerment of human capital. Before this approach was popularised, there was a confusion related how to measure the total creative occupations since the impact is wider than the creative industries itself, which backs up the previous growth model theory.

Furthermore, Potts (2007) asserted that the growth model is related with the evolutionary economics theory. As a part of a ‘knowledge economy’ (Cunningham, 2002, p.55), creative industries deal with ‘origination, adaptation, and retention of novel ideas’ (Potts, 2007, p.1). That is why the subject of creative industries is always changing and shaping economic landscape. It is able to foster the diffusion of innovation and technology; thus it strengthens the implementation of the evolutionary economics theory and vice versa. All of the theoretical frameworks of creative industries as growth catalyst will be demonstrated in this paper through the case study.

GOT is a flagship epic television series produced by Home Box Office (HBO), an American premium television network. It is directed by George Benioff and D B. Weiss and the plot is adapted from a fantasy literature series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. The first book was published in 1996, but the series recently hit the screen in 2011. Since then, HBO has produced 6 seasons of GOT which comprises of 10 episodes for each season. GOT is planned to be continued until season 8 which will be aired later in 2018. However, due to the international success and high viewers’ demand, it possible to do a spinoff series after the show ends (Millward, 2016).

With the budget of approximately more than £ 6 million per episode, GOT can afford to be filmed in various European countries, such as Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Spain, Croatia, and Morocco. The extraordinary budget is also utilised to produce high-quality costumes, properties, and visual effects (Garofalo, 2014). Nevertheless, GOT gains higher profits, ratings, and global brands that can be applied in licensed creative industries such as merchandises and musical scores’ CD.

GOT is aired worldwide and succeeded to engage more than 8,89 million viewers in its latest episode. From the graph below, it can be seen that there is a significant increase in viewers’ number among the years, not including the number of viewers who watch the series from pirated files or illegal websites.

Chart 1. GOT's Viewers Growth
(Wikipedia, 2016)

Furthermore, the quantity of viewer equals with the quality of the series. Since the first instalment, GOT has been acting as a strong contender in numerous awards related to the television program. In 2016 Emmy Awards, GOT is nominated in 24 categories which spanned from actors, visual effect, to musical score, and won 12 of them, including the prestigious the best drama series title (Bakare, 2016).

In my perspective, Game of Thrones is highly appealing due to its ability to subtly portray medieval history embedded with strong details and unpredictable story line. GOT portrays wide aspects such as geographical detail, politic, religion, and language. These aspects make the stories seem real, believable, and tease the fan base to build theories upon them. Moreover, some events in GOT is connected with real world history. For instance, the black water bay battle scene has similar war tactic with the siege of Constantinople in 717 (Bond, 2015). The whole plot of GOT itself is said to be depicted the 15th century England’s war of the roses (Tharoor, 2015).

A lot of people assumed that GOT is a British series because it employs almost all British actors. Besides that, the production process and indoor shooting are mainly accomplished at Titanic Studios (formerly known as the Paint Hall Studios), in Belfast, Northern Ireland. However, the UK does not own GOT franchise since it is owned by HBO. But even though GOT is owned by an American company, its impacts to the UK is as enormous as it did in the USA.

The country of Northern Ireland is unified with England, Wales, and Scotland in the UK.  From the beginning of its establishment in 1920, Northern Ireland had experienced numerous conflicts with the Republic of Ireland and the UK alongside with its status as a post-industrialist country. As for the recent conflict, which often addressed as ‘the troubles’, it lasted for 30 years from 1968 to 1998Looking at current Northern Ireland’s condition, it is hard to believe that the perennial political conflict has only been resolved recently in 1998.

At that time, there was a dispute between the majority unionist Protestant and minority nationalist Catholic. The difference between religion make ‘the troubles’ seem like religion conflict, but it is basically a territorial conflict. During that period, there was some notable event such as Derry Bloody Sunday in 1972 and Dumcree standoff in 1996. The constant clash throughout the year resulted in approximately 3,500 deaths, more than 50,000 injuries, and broken infrastructures which often caused by bombing (Dorney, 2015).

‘The troubles’ was ended with the good Friday agreement in 1998. But even after it was ended, Northern Ireland government requires time to repair the damage that had been done. According to Buchanan (2014), ‘the troubles’ caused the poor economic condition, high unemployment rate, educational disadvantage, poverty, and social exclusion. Furthermore, Northern Ireland was also affected by the 2007 global debt crisis, thus the redevelopment phase was more challenging. There are some policies related to the social and economic development, but this paper will specify on GOT’s related cultural policy to help it transform into a prosperous country.

While most of the countries and cities focus on the creative business support type of policy which target start-ups and micro-businesses (Foord, 2009), Northern Ireland has a different approach. Theoretically, there are several types of public interventions:
(1) property and premises strategies; (2) business development, advice, and network building; (3) direct grants and loans schemes to creative business/entrepreneurs; (4) fiscal initiatives; (5) physical and IT infrastructure; and (6) soft Infrastructure (Foord, 2009, p.97).

From the desk research, it can be concluded that Northern Ireland’s cultural policy focuses on the 4th, 5th, and 6th type of interventions. Northern Ireland Screen (NIS), a governmental body engaged in film and television policy, targeted the country to be ‘the first-class film and television production location’ (NIS, 2016, p.34). That is why the main policy is to fortify its funding capability and creative workers’ skills. The policy is included in NIS’ short-term development plan for 2015 to 2016 entitled the Opening Doors which works on social, economic, and cultural factors. Another policy related to marketing and city branding are adapted to alter the country’s past images. Furthermore, all cultural policies in Northern Ireland are guaranteed to be relevant to its public policies from related department such as Northern Ireland Executive Economic Strategy, Invest NI Corporate Plan, Department for Culture Arts and Leisure Corporate Plan, and Northern Ireland Tourism Strategy (NIS, 2014).

5.1 Funding

Chart 2. Funding and Expenditure on GOT
(NIS, 2016)

Apart from the production house and sponsors, Game of Thrones is partially funded by Northern Ireland Screen and Invest Northern Ireland. The funding is a part of their program to foster creative industries growth in Northern Ireland. From the chart above, it can be seen that the investment is decreasing while the expenditure is increasing throughout the years. However, the investment and expenditure in 2016 is an estimation since the production process of GOT season 7 is still in progress.

The expenditure in the chart represents the amount of money that was spent in Northern Ireland during the production process. For example, the expenditure is used to cover accommodation, transportation, and lunch among the local area. From 2010 to 2016, NIS has been granting HBO with a total investment of £ 14.85 million, merely 7% of the £ 166 million total expenditures (NIS, 2016) which is profitable for Northern Ireland’s economy. The main investment is given in a form of tax incentive. Besides that, Titanic Studios, which is the main production studio of GOT, gave HBO lower price than the other users because it weights the advantage of the GOT’s large production scale for the future development of Northern Ireland’s industry.

For the upcoming years, especially when the GOT production is over, NIS and Northern Ireland Investment (NII) are pitching the whole package of the island and studios with an interesting funding scheme to other large-scale productions. In addition, besides GOT, in the recent years Northern Ireland works with the production of The Frankenstein Chronicle, The Lodge, and My Mother and Other Strangers (NIS, 2016).

5.2. Skill-building
Skill-building is a part of soft infrastructure advancement. As a grand production, GOT demands an excessive amount of creative workers. However, HBO cannot employ people carelessly. Creative workers require a special skill set to assist the production process. To fulfil the demand, NIS (2016) initiated skill-building workshops for the local people. It selected some trainees and put them as apprentices in GOT television series production. There are 4 departments as follows.

Table 2. GOT's Skull-building Workshops
(NIS, 2016)

This program is intended to establish creative class as the key actor of creative industries (Florida, 2002). With the rise of the creative class, the creative industries ecosystem will attract more creative workers to initiate a business or creative production in Northern Ireland because it has a solid support system. To illustrate, it will be expensive and ineffective to accomplish a film production in one country but most of the professional workers have to be brought from another country. Moreover, creative workers are highly flexible occupation because they often get a short-term contract. That is why investing in creative workers means to give them the opportunity to work anywhere around the world and expand their network.

5.3 Marketing
One of Northern Ireland’s new marketing program is to promote Northern Ireland as the real Westeros, the main continent in GOT series (DNI, n.d.). This approach was also undertaken by New Zealand to promote its country as the real-life Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Tzanelli, 2004). The places that were operated as a shooting location, is transformed into country’s landmarks by a collaborative project from Northern Ireland Tourism (NIT) and Discover Northern Ireland (DNI). It built an information panel at each location to give visitors a brief information about the place and its role in GOT’s story line. NIT also provides well-designed interactive filming location map that can be accessed through NIT’s official website or downloaded for free to the smartphone via Google Playstore or Appstore. The map is also equipped with a 360-degree panoramic picture of the location’s scenery.

Figure 1. GOT's Information Panel in Ballintoy Harbour
(Visit Belfast, n.d.)

The latest GOT related program was launched in early 2016 by DNI (2016), called the Doors of Thrones (DOT). DOT is a series of GOT-themed hand-carved wooden doors that are placed around Northern Ireland. The doors are intentionally placed in bars or restaurants near GOT’s shooting location. The idea was started when the Storm Gertrude tore down several trees at the Dark Hedges – which is also a spot for GOT’s shooting – in 2015. DNI decided to transform the trees into a unique artefact to remind the local people and tourists about GOT. Currently, there is a total of 10 doors in Northern Ireland. Some of the locations are Strangford, Portaferry, Ballintoy, Cushendun, and Belfast. This program can be perceived as a gamification marketing strategy for urban people. Gamification is a strategy to engage customers or audiences in a fun mission to achieve something, just like a game (Reiners and Wood, 2015). With the presence of GOT, a lot of people voluntarily go to the restaurants just to take pictures with all the doors.

Figure 2. Doors of Thrones in Fullerton Arms Restaurant, Ballintoy
(TNI, 2016)

5.4 City Branding
Figure 3. Visit Belfast Logo
(Visit Belfast, n.d.)

Other policy which is not directly related with GOT but affected the socioeconomic development is the city branding in Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland (Coleman, 2008). The new logo and branding were officiated by Belfast City Council in 2008 at a public event in Waterfront Hall. It embodies the heart shape and the alphabet B to promote Belfast as a vibrant city and rebuild its identity as a post-conflict city. Besides that, the objective of the branding is to attract international visitors and investors.

From the cultural policies that were taken by Northern Ireland government, there are several stands out impacts. Nevertheless, it is possible that there are many other impacts that can be discovered through further research.

6.1 Screen Tourism

Figure 4. Northern Ireland Official Map for GOT's Tours
(DNI, n.d.)

In this essay, the terminology screen tourism is chosen rather than film tourism, regarding its capacity to cover tourism which was induced by both film and television series. The content of screen tourism mostly comprises of visiting the actual shooting scene and doing activities related to the film. Other than that, some screen tourism can include a visit to studio sets, film-themed theme parks, film festivals, film premieres, or even to the actors’ house (Connell, 2012). In GOT case, there are more than 15 shooting locations around Northern Ireland that can be visited by the tourists, such as The Dark Hedges, Ballintoy Harbour, Cushendun Caves, Cairncastle, and Shillanavoghy Valley. The activities in GOT’s screen tourism include horse-riding, archery, and rowing in a dragon boat (Visit Belfast, n.d.).

The advantage of screen tourism compared with conventional tourism is, it requires less promotion. There is a precursor film or TV series that is already popular and has loyal audiences, hence it is easier to penetrate the market. Furthermore, Tzanelli (2004) stated that film franchise helped open up new markets which previously unreachable by the conventional tourism industry. For instance, a trekking at Tollymore Forest Park will not be appealing for those who do not like outdoor sports. But with Game of Thrones, this kind of people may go there as a fan of GOT with a desire to immerse themselves in the experience. Furthermore, screen tourism deals with a more personal and emotional experience.

The popularity of screen tourism in Northern Ireland boost the growth of tour companies, whether it is a government official or independent, but none of them is affiliated with HBO. Some of the independent tour companies that provide GOT-related tours are Game of Thrones Tours, Winterfell Tours, Brit Movie Tours, and McComb’s Coach Travel. Even though there is still no data that illustrates the correlation between the growth of tourism and the GOT tours, the diagram below portrays the rise of tourists in Northern Ireland, especially from out of state.

Chart 3. Northern Ireland's Tourist Growth
(TNI, 2016)

6.2 Urban Regeneration
Urban regeneration is a program to revive the triumph of the post-industrial country by rebuilding physical infrastructure. Even though this is a top-down approach, the main target of the program is to empower the grassroots community by providing them facility (Weaver, 2001). The main program entitled the urban regeneration community development is managed by Northern Ireland’s Department for Social Development (DSD, 2012, p.14). The regeneration programs cover a wide area and one of them is creative infrastructure. It is covered in its policy objective number 2 which is ‘to strengthen the competitiveness of our towns and cities’.

Most of cities and countries emphasise the development of creative industries clusters in their development program to attract creative class (Flew, 2012), but Northern Ireland chose to maximise the impact of the on-going production of GOT. In its Opening Door strategy (NIS, 2014), Northern Ireland plans to build 2 new sound stages as the extension of the Titanic Studio and establish Belfast Harbour Studio in the Giant’s Park.

Moreover, looking at the success of the Titanic Museum that exploits the movie Titanic and its relation to the ship-building history by Harland and Wolff (Ramsey, 2013), it is possible that in the future Northern Ireland will establish the Game of Thrones Museum.

6.3 Employment
The chart below describes that the number of unemployment in Northern Ireland is gradually decreasing. It is safe to assumed that the reduction is fostered by the GOT production that needs 900 full-time workers and 5,700 part-time workers for each season (Moloney, 2015) with 80% crew hired locally from Northern Ireland area (Dawtrey, 2011).

Chart 4. Northern Ireland's Unemoployment Reduction
(NISRA, 2016)

The type of the creative workers is very diverse and specific since the production itself involves many properties and stage sets. One of the success creative workers that started her business from working with Game of Thrones is Ingrid Houwer (Meredith, 2014). She has been working as a taxidermist for ages, but her recent acknowledgement is because she provides large-scale production of costumes and set properties for GOT.

Furthermore, the needed workers are not only from the creative field but also in hospitality services such as bed and breakfast and restaurants, thus it proves the existence of the spill-over effect. It is likely that the numbers of this hospitality services will keep increasing in line with the growth of tourists. In relation to the creative trident theory, workers such as drivers or mechanics in the production can be classified into non-cultural profession in cultural sector category. 

Besides that, a huge production like GOT which often portrays a battle scene with many armies need an excessive amount of extras to be employed. The official recruitment for GOT’s extras and other productions which are located in Northern Ireland is organised by one agency namely Extras Northern Ireland. The company has a partnership with prominent television channels such as HBO, BBC, and Universal (Extras NI, n.d.). In my opinion, this service represents the good management of Northern Ireland government in embracing the most of the creative industries’ benefits.

As a post-conflict country, Northern Ireland strengthened its cultural policy as a part of its strategy to accelerate its socioeconomic development. In relation to the case study, it has been offering HBO a profitable collaborative scheme since the very first production of GOT. It succeeded in forecasting the benefit of the long-term investment in GOT because it believes in the growth model theory (Garnham, 2005; Potts and Cunningham, 2008) and spill-over impact (Lee, 2014) of creative industries to other fields.

Furthermore, this case is able to prove that those theories are relevant to the real world application. If Northern Ireland failed to grab the opportunity and did not emphasise its creative policies, it is possible that the appearance of the impacts will not be this massive. In other words, the policy acts as a win-win solution for both the country and the production house.

In addition, the impacts of screen tourism, urban regeneration, and employment will be a legacy to the Northern Ireland. The tangible (e.g. production studios) and non-tangible (e.g. skilled employees) benefits of these impacts will continue to thrive even after the GOT ends because the bigger goal is to transform Northern Ireland as the best country for screen production. Finally, the findings from this research are hoped to inspire other less developed countries to include creative industries development as their governments’ long-term plan and start to invest in them.

This is an essay for CICP Assignment for Creative Industries and Cultural Policy Course at the University of Glasgow. Please provide proper citation if you use this as reference.

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