Our friend on the Isle of Man

Our friend on the Isle of Man

Michael Wilson (Credit: UTV)
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Michael Wilson is fast discovering there is more to the island than TT races and stunning scenery

Until the beginning of the year, the Isle of Man was shorthand for “I’m almost home…”. On my many flights home to Belfast or Dublin, when the pilot said we were flying over the Isle of Man, I knew landing was only a matter of minutes away. Over the years, based in Ireland but regularly in London, I must have flown over the island more than 800 times – never once did I give it a second thought.

That changed in January, when I became the CEO of Isle of Media, the public-private partnership that aims to make the island a media hub.

I like a professional challenge and thought this would be at the top end of the scale. Why would any media company uproot from their established base and set up on a rock?

While I’m still getting to know the island, as far as I can see there is no Greggs or Nando’s, and no Pret. There is a Costa and a Starbucks. There is not one kilometre of motorway on the whole 48km-long island, which is, in its entirety, a Unesco Biosphere.

Well, actually, all the reasons above are good ones. Many businesses, especially their owners, want to move to a place where the customer knows the barista’s name and they know yours without writing it on a paper cup. The restaurants are varied. Often they are owned by the chef and cook with locally sourced ingredients.

With miles of beach, glen and tramway, and with steam trains to commute on – and no speed limit on open roads – it’s a place for family and maverick alike. The island even has its own fairies, apparently.

I’ve made it half way through the column without mentioning the tax rate: 0% corporation tax, 0% capital gains tax and a maximum personal taxation rate of 20%. While the BBC’s Panorama painted a different picture, the Isle of Man is officially “white listed” by the OECD for good practice and transparency.

So, how do we create a media cluster out of nothing? Well, that’s another misunderstanding. There is already a serious media presence on the island.

At one point, the Isle of Man was one of the British Isles’ busiest locations. More than 100 feature films and TV shows have been filmed here. We are now transitioning to a production, digital media and technology hub, having inherited a large creative talent base.

Greenlight Television is based here. It makes motorsport for international audiences, including the TT races for ITV4 and road racing for the BBC.

Mark Rowland’s latest venture, Formatzone, specialising in unscripted, has an outpost on the island as well as in Birmingham. Its production Laurence of Suburbia is distributed by Sky Vision and is beginning its international roll-out. The series is on air in New Zealand, Poland and South Africa.

The pan-European digital channel Motorsport.tv has just invested in the Isle of Man-based Duke Media. The deal will bring the Duke archive to a global audience.

It’s not only production.

SES Satellite Leasing has recently built a teleport, while Mediatech Advertising works internationally, and Manx Telecom supports an IP-based news service.

A major facilities business is about to announce its arrival to cater for the growing media opportunities and will import post-production projects.

In the pipeline is an amazing media tech business, plus a number of animation projects.

We are looking to become a major eSports base, which will complement the existing gaming businesses that flourish on the island.

We even have incentives to deliver businesses to the Isle of Man. These include multimillion-pound government grants and funds, and media-savvy angel investors.

Just like me, you may never have thought about the Isle of Man per se, let alone in a media business context, but we can all be wrong.

Michael Wilson is CEO, Isle of Media.