What next for RTÉ's transmission network subsidiary 2RN? The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) last year signalled that it intends to regulate the price of transmitting on Saorview after complaints from broadcasters other than RTÉ that the subsidiary has exploited its significant market power.
Now the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has rejected the possibility of reviving its commercial DTT licensing process, in part because 2RN’s charges, as consultants Oliver & Ohlbaum found, are not exactly the only barrier to the establishment of a commercial DTT market. ComReg interventions such as price control and an obligation for cost transparency would not, by themselves, “be sufficient to alter the economics of a commercial DTT service”, Oliver & Ohlbaum’s report said.
Intervention surely remains necessary in the case of Saorview. Transmission charges on the public, free-to-air DTT platform are a thorny issue for TV3 Group in particular: once upon a time, it had hoped the advent of DTT would facilitate the launch of channels such as TV3 +1 and 3 Kids. What TV3 chief executive David McRedmond calls the "unbelievable amount of money" charged for carriage on the platform has scuppered these plans.
John McCann, chief executive of would-be Saorview customer UTV Media, has noted that Saorview charges are "perceived as expensive" but he still wants the proposed UTV Ireland service to be carried on it. But what kind of organisation will UTV, TV3 and others be negotiating with in the future? Last year, RTÉNL was "repositioned" out of Montrose. It is still, however, wholly owned by RTÉ.
It will be difficult for the Department of Communications to sanction another of Oliver & Ohlbaum’s recommendations – that TV3 be “given a stronger voice” in the management of Saorview – as long as this remains the case, but then it may not be minded to do so anyway.