RTÉ chief sets sights on boosting export sales to help make ends meet at home


INTERVIEW:Killane to appoint controllers to RTÉ One and RTÉ Two to promote the brands

Glen Killane, managing director of RTÉ Television, is fresh from the farm – RTÉ’s Format Farm.

On Wednesday, about 160 representatives of production companies, funding partners and international distributors gathered in Studio 4, where the Late Late Show is filmed, to collectively dream up the next Come Dine With Me.

The dinner-party-for-perfectionists franchise has made hundreds of millions in global format sales for its creator, ITV Studios, and RTÉ would dearly like to mimic this success.

The broadcaster is still counting the value of overseas deals for its flagship drama Love/Hate, while weight-loss show Operation Transformation has been sold to Belgium and Holland. But there’s more money to be made, Killane believes.

“The ambition is to position Ireland as a leader in formats and I don’t see why we can’t. If Israel and Holland can do it, so can we,” he says. Denmark boasts another enviable track record, having made a killing on The Killing.

Making drama in sufficient volumes to sell abroad isn’t easy for the cash-strapped Irish broadcaster, which was on track to record an estimated deficit of €57 million last year.

Drama is pulling in viewers at home, however. “It’s not just Love/Hate. Fair City has been having a whale of a time with the Doyle story, and audience shares have been 30-40 per cent. Raw’s audience is also way up on last year.”

Ratings success

Even with ratings success, the recommissioning of Raw is not a foregone conclusion.

“Our priority is to fund more Love/Hate. There’s definitely more legs in it, if they would only stop killing off everybody.”

There have, in the past, been “pressures” on Love/Hate, “because we would save millions straight away if we axed it”.

A decision will be taken on Raw shortly, while six more episodes of Love/Hate have been commissioned. “To produce 20 episodes of a drama is just not within our scope, but maybe we could get to 10, if we had some co-production funding.”

Killane has told staff he will appoint channel controllers to RTÉ One and RTÉ Two. Controllers already exist for radio, while it is a management structure also favoured by the BBC, Sky and others. It seems a “counterintuitive move”, he admits, when some viewers, particularly younger ones and busy parents, opt to time-shift their watching via personal video recorders and catch-up players.

But marketing two complementary channel brands will also help stem the drift of viewers to the hundreds of channels that snatch 0.3 per cent of the market here or 0.5 per cent of the market there.

A turnaround at RTÉ’s second channel – the target of constant criticism from commercial rival TV3 – is also on Killane’s wishlist.

In isolation, RTÉ Two recorded a net deficit of €17.6 million in 2011. Understandably given the broadcaster’s financial predicament, its listings have been light on original programming as the collapse in advertising revenue took its toll on budgets.

RTÉ Two did manage to reverse some of the losses in audience share it sustained in 2011, but there was little ker-ching.

“I think we had a good year last year in terms of our share – the Olympics and the European Championships on RTÉ Two really helped – but the money didn’t follow. So I think you could assume that some of the money has left the market,” says Killane.

Plenty to satirise

He has been happy with the performance of comedy programmes Republic of Telly, The Mario Rosenstock Show, The Savage Eye, The Fear and various Katherine Lynch vehicles on RTÉ Two, as well as Irish Pictorial Weekly on RTÉ One.

“There’s a good appetite at the moment for satire – there’s plenty to satirise.”

Applicants for the RTÉ Two controller job should bear in mind that Killane is keen for more comedy on the channel, as well as factual programming such as its Reality Bites strand.

Meanwhile, Sheila de Courcy, who was appointed cross-divisional head of children’s content at RTÉ in December, will become the controller of RTÉ jnr, the channel aimed at 0-6-year-olds. This appointment is “a statement of intent” for RTÉ on children’s programming, says Killane.

The broadcaster is on target to cut its spend on sports rights and imports. On imports, it is getting cut out of deals anyway by the commercial might of Sky, which has been buying up premium US content, something of a sore point.

“We wrote to the Minister some months back because we felt we were being badly treated, as Sky were tacking the Irish rights on to the end of their UK deals,” he says. The viewer ratings for RTÉ’s broadcast of Grey’s Anatomy are “way down” this year, because its all-important “first-window” rights to show the hospital drama soon after it is broadcast in the US was scuppered this season by a Sky deal.

“There’s no way we can compete with these huge UK channels and platforms,” says Killane. “Their budgets are multiples of ours.”

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