Dee Forbes lays out broad vision for RTÉ but without details

RTÉ restructuring indicates changes to come as station launches sale of €75m landbank

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes: dismantling the current structure, with its silos devoted to television, radio and digital, may hint at a willingness to reconsider the future of some sacred cows.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes: dismantling the current structure, with its silos devoted to television, radio and digital, may hint at a willingness to reconsider the future of some sacred cows.

 

Eight months after she took up the job of director-general, Dee Forbes stepped into the limelight to outline her vision for the future of RTÉ to an open-to-all staff meeting and simultaneously (via the magic of pre-recording) to the listeners of Radio One. In a presentation timed to coincide with the market launch of a slice of the Montrose campus valued at €75 million, Forbes spoke of the need for the broadcaster to “adapt or die”.

But, if dying is avoided, what will adaptation mean, and what sorts of changes should viewers, listeners and online users of RTÉ’s services expect in the next few years?

The commitments made by Forbes in a fluid and confident interview with Sean O’Rourke on his Radio One programme were high on management-speak but low on nitty gritty. RTÉ needed to become a “smaller, more nimble organisation”. It had to “concentrate on the best content”. The plans she was presenting were merely for a “direction of travel” – actual details would follow in the months ahead.

The planned voluntary redundancies will not have come as a surprise to staff, and there may even be some relief that the numbers envisaged are not higher. The botched attempt last November to summarily outsource children’s programming, which Forbes acknowledged “wasn’t our finest hour”, led to some believing that management was pursuing a “publisher-broadcaster” model, with minimal in-house production. That proposition was firmly rejected by the director-general, who said Fair City and other flagships would remain in Montrose.

Deckchair-rearranging

None of this matters very much to the audience, however. Restructuring and rethinking may be inevitable facts of life for media companies as they struggle to adjust to the destruction wrought by the internet on their traditional ways of doing business. To the outside observer, though, these games of deckchair-rearranging can seem opaque. And to those directly involved, they may just appear wearisome.

“The feeling was that it’s nothing many of us haven’t seen before – the need to economise, work more efficiently, maximise our potential etc,” said one person who was at the staff briefing.

But dismantling the current structure, with its silos devoted to television, radio and digital, may hint at a willingness to reconsider the future of some sacred cows. Forbes might, for example, see fit to address the longstanding running sore of 2FM, the faltering junior radio channel which these days seems to have neither a commercial nor a public service rationale for its continued existence. There’s also the question of RTÉ2, which is struggling to maintain its audience share in the face of competition from Netflix and other streaming services.

RTÉ has to maintain a delicate balancing act at the best of times in reconciling its public service requirements with its commercial imperatives. Like its competitors, it suffered last year from an unanticipated downturn in the advertising market due to an accelerated shift to digital. Additional costs associated with the 1916 centenary added to the burden, and hopes of a political move to address Ireland’s high level of licence fee evasion were dashed.

Perhaps this week’s announcement should be seen, therefore, as a pre-emptive strike against any suggestion that the land sale in itself will solve any of the challenges it faces in the years ahead.

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