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UK invests in 'immersive technologies' to boost creative industries sector

Plans to invest in the use and development of "immersive technologies", such as virtual and augmented reality, have been set out by the UK government as part of a package of measures to support the country's creative industries.28 Mar 2018

The government said that it intends to invest £33 million to "help pioneer the next generation of products, services and experiences".

Some of the money will go to existing projects applying immersive technologies to help them become "demonstrators" that can spark "wider uptake" of the technologies, while around a third of the money will go towards research and development initiatives that will, among other things, look at "understanding the future consumer, delivering vital insight into audience perceptions and behaviours".

The remaining funds from the £33m pot will be used to help "overcome silos in the key industries, ensuring the UK creative workforce is the most skilled in the world in the use of immersive technologies". The public funds the government has committed will be matched by "at least £25m in co-investment" from the creative industry as well as their support for the overall initiatives announced. Only businesses that contribute to the programme of work outlined will benefit from grants, the government said.

The government said it wants 10% of all "global creative immersive content" to be UK-made by 2025, and for the UK's share of total global investment in immersive technologies to reach 10% by the same period. The UK's investment share in 2016 was 5% of the global total, it said.

"Virtual and augmented reality will transform not only how we experience entertainment but also our experience of the physical world – from shops to museums, cars to classrooms," the government said. "Whilst hardware offers new ways to deliver experiences, demand is likely to depend on the production of popular high quality content. This is a major opportunity for the UK to establish itself as a global leader."

"We have world-class creative companies, researchers and technologists, and a strong base of production businesses, entertainment events and expertise in arts, design, and computer science. We must bring these together if we are to fulfil our potential as an immersive hub," it said.

The measures outlined to support the development and use of immersive technologies were contained in a new 'sector deal' struck by the government and the Creative Industries Council (72-page / 3.96MB PDF).

The sector deal commits the government and industry to take action aimed at boosting growth and productivity in the UK's creative sector. The sector is made up of a range of organisations from industries such as music and the arts, film and TV, photography, and software development.

"Any funding is very welcome as the creative industries form a vital part of the UK economy and will be even more important post-Brexit," said intellectual property law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "However, the government needs to increase awareness of the need to protect new technologies by intellectual property rights and should extend tax breaks to encourage greater investment in this area."

The creative industries sector deal is the latest such agreement reached by the UK government with representatives from different areas of the UK economy under its broader industrial strategy. Previous sector deals put in place include those in the automotive, construction and life sciences sectors.

In its latest announcement of the creative industries sector deal, the government also confirmed that funding will be directed towards establishing eight "creative research and development partnerships" between creative industry businesses and universities across the UK". A further £20m in funds will also be provided to support the development of "world-class creative clusters" across the UK through a new Cultural Development Fund.

"Local partnerships will be able to bid for strategic investments in culture and creative industries – helping leading areas become world-class, unlocking growth, investment and jobs," it said.

Local partnerships comprising businesses, museums and galleries, universities and local government will match funding awarded, the government said, and "bring to bear leadership and expertise", while industry bodies will also provide advice to creative companies in the clusters on "finance, exports and IP".

In addition to a raft of other funding announcements and measures, the creative industries sector deal also outlined government plans to protect the intellectual property of creative businesses.

The government urged social media platforms, advertising bodies, and online marketplaces to agree new voluntary codes of practice with rights holders to address copyright infringement. The companies face the prospect of new statutory duties to act on the issue if sufficient progress on the development of those codes has not been made by the end of the year, it said.

"We will further safeguard copyright content by convening online intermediaries and rights holders to consider the need for and agree new codes of practice on social media and user upload platforms, digital advertising and online marketplaces (considering legislative backstops if sufficient voluntary progress is not made by the end of 2018)," the government said.

It also said that it would "continue to address the transfer of value from the creative industries and progress work on closing the value gap at the European and domestic levels".

UK business secretary Greg Clark said: "The deal is evidence of our continued commitment to our world leading creative sector, establishing a partnership that can build on the UK’s position and reputation as one the most creative places on earth."