RTÉ deficit means drama makes debut abroad
TELEPRINTER: A four-part drama filmed for RTÉ in 2011 was postponed from its schedule last year because the broadcaster couldn't afford to show it under international accounting rules.
Amber, made by the independent production company Screenworks for RTÉ - with funding of €550,000 allocated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, has already been shown on channels in Australia, Denmark and across South America. It is also available to US subscribers via online platforms Netflix and Hulu.
But the drama's arrival on Irish television screens has been delayed because, under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), the cost of a programme is allocated to the period in which it is broadcast, not when the money is spent.
"Under IFRS rules, it shows up on your books when you transmit the product," said RTÉ managing director of television Glen Killane.
Amber, which follows the investigation into the sudden disappearance of a 14-year-old girl, was listed among RTÉ's performance commitments for 2012. However, over the course of last year, RTÉ's deficit ballooned following a decline in its commercial base and the cost of two redundancy schemes, forcing it to axe Amber from its autumn plans.
Because of its high production costs, drama is typically vulnerable when broadcasters need to make cuts. Even the successful Love/Hate has endured "pressures", Killane told The Irish Times recently, "because we would save millions straight away if we axed it".
A fourth series of Love/Hate has now been commissioned, and Killane says RTÉ now expects to show Amber next autumn.
Somewhat unusually, the Dublin-set Amber has found an international audience first, after Screenworks signed a global distribution deal with Content Television in November.
Starring Eva Birthistle, Lauryn Canny, David Murray and Janice Byrne, and directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, it is currently being shown on DirecTV in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
In Denmark, it has aired as Sporløst Forsvundet on DR2, the sister channel of DR1, which broadcasts The Killing and Borgen. It has also been sold to SVT in Sweden, Hot Drama in Israel, Globosat in Brazil and Allarco for Canada's Super Channel.
Screenworks' company director and Amber co-creator and co-producer Paul Duane said the production house was now developing two new drama projects with RTÉ, one of which the company hopes will go into production this year and one in 2014.
Speaking last month, Killane said RTÉ would reinvest in drama - particularly single dramas - once its financial position has stabilised. "When things turn around, that's the thing we would look to first."