Creative industries in Northern Ireland
An overview of Northern Ireland's vibrant creative industry sector
Northern Ireland is home to a wide range of creative arts and industries.
From first-rate film and television productions, such as Game of Thrones and The Fall, to the thriving games industry - the creative sectors play a big role in the economic development and growth of the region.
Locally, over 25,000 people work in the creative industries or in creative occupations. This represents 3.1 per cent of the workforce. Since creative industries rely on individual creativity, skill and talent, they have the potential to:
- create capital and jobs
- develop intellectual property
- advance the way other business sectors innovate and compete
- enhance Northern Ireland's profile on the world stage
This guide outlines the shape of the creative sector in Northern Ireland and highlights key opportunities and support available to Northern Ireland's creative businesses.
Creative sector in Northern Ireland
The creative sector in Northern Ireland is diverse and covers a broad range of business activities. It takes in industries that:
- have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent, and
- have a potential for wealth and job creation by utilising intellectual property
Creative industries sub-sectors
There are various definitions of the sector. However, creative industries commonly include:
- design and designer fashion
- digital and entertainment media
- film, video and photography
- software and electronic publishing
- television and radio
- music and visual and performing arts
In Northern Ireland, employment in the creative industries accounted for around 25,000 jobs in 2017. This represented 3.1 per cent of the workforce. (Source: Creative Industries economic estimates for Northern Ireland 2019)
NI creative industries strategies
The economic strategy for Northern Ireland identifies innovation, research & development and creativity as key economic drivers for future growth.
While the Department for Communities (DfC) is the government lead for the creative industries in Northern Ireland, organisations such as the Arts Council NI and Northern Ireland Screen play a key role in supporting and nurturing the creative industries across the region.
Find out more about the DfC's strategy for the creative industries in Northern Ireland.
Creative businesses and employment in Northern Ireland
Creative industries are emerging as one of the fastest developing and increasingly important sectors of the UK economy. They are recognised as one of the key economic drivers for future growth in Northern Ireland.
Creative employment in Northern Ireland
The Department for Communities (DfC) estimates the number of people in creative employment in 2017 in Northern Ireland at 25,000, or 3.1 per cent of the local workforce.
Creative employment covers:
- employees and self-employed individuals in creative industries
- employees and self-employed individuals doing creative jobs outside creative industries
Those working in creative employment in Northern Ireland tend to be highly qualified, with a large percentage holding a degree level qualification or equivalent.
Northern Ireland universities, Further and Higher Education colleges and Northern Ireland Skillset Media Academy are ensuring a steady supply of skilled, work-ready recruits.
Creative businesses in Northern Ireland
In 2015, there were 3,100 creative businesses in Northern Ireland, accounting for 5.1 per cent of all business units in Northern Ireland. The number of creative enterprises increased by 6 per cent in 2016 compared with 2015.
There were a total of around 60,900 businesses in Northern Ireland in 2016, an increase of 2% in 2015. In addition, there was a slight increase in the proportion of creative enterprises relative to all businesses in Northern Ireland (4.9 per cent to 5.1 per cent).
Almost two-fifths of all creative industries in Northern Ireland in 2016 were in IT, software and computer services group. Architecture and Film, TV, video, radio and photography comprise around 13 per cent of all creative industries in Northern Ireland, followed by Advertising and marketing, and Design and designer fashion at around 10 per cent.
Economic impact of creative industries in Northern Ireland
Gross Value Added (GVA) for the creative industries was £1,088 million in 2017, representing 2.7 per cent of Northern Ireland's total GVA. In absolute terms, GVA for the creative industries increased by 8 per cent between 2016 and 2017 (£1,008 million to £1,088 million), compared to a 5 per cent increase for total GVA. Overall, GVA for the creative industries has generally increased over the trend period from 2010 to 2017.
Among the creative industries groups, IT software and computer services provided the greatest contribution to Northern Ireland GVA (£647 million). This group also provided the largest annual average increase over 2010 - 2017 at 12 per cent, as well as the greatest increase in GVA compared with 2016 (13 per cent).
The Department for Communities issues a bulletin with detailed statistics and key economic estimates for the creative industries for Northern Ireland. See the latest available bulletin for 2019 creative industries statistics.
NI creative sector: challenges and opportunities
The creative sector is one of the fastest-growing parts of the UK economy. As such, it offers great opportunities to local Northern Ireland business, particularly in the film, TV, games and digital markets.
With today's digital technologies, NI creative businesses can easily:
- connect to wider markets
- find new distribution channels
- identify global demand for creative products and services
- network and collaborate with other creative businesses and sectors
Read about the creative sector in Northern Ireland.
Challenges for the creative businesses
While many benefits come out of the digital advances, so does one of the major challenges for the industry - global competition. From film production to design, new international centres for creative businesses are developing rapidly across the globe, making it harder for small local businesses to enter new and emerging markets.
In addition, the lack of scale of most businesses in Northern Ireland means that the sector comprises mostly small or micro-enterprises, and sole traders. This minimises opportunities for attracting considerable inward investments, building vast supply chains and significantly boosting employment.
Other challenges facing creative businesses in Northern Ireland include:
- poor access to finance, particularly affecting micro-businesses and SMEs
- specialist skills and knowledge gaps
- lack of general business skills
- intellectual property protection and monetisation
Current Northern Ireland digital media strategy hopes to address a number of these challenges, including collaboration, innovation, internationalisation, talent, infrastructure and investment.
Northern Ireland creative industries support
There are many sources of support and help for creative businesses in Northern Ireland. From government initiatives and innovation funding, to sector-specific programmes.
To find out what support is available, see:
Considering the diverse nature of the creative sector, businesses sometimes come across challenges in finding the appropriate support.
If you're not sure where to turn for support, you can call Invest Northern Ireland Helpline on Tel 0800 181 4422 for information and advice.
You can also search the Northern Ireland business support finder to find grants, advice and other sources of assistance.