RTÉ challenges producers on Saturday night quiz show

Broadcaster is playing catch-up on commissions to make its statutory obligations

RTÉ plans to commission a new Saturday night quiz show for RTÉ One's spring schedule and has invited independent production companies pitching to make the programme to "think Family Fortunes rather than Mastermind".

In a process overseen by group head of entertainment and music John McHugh, the broadcaster is seeking pitches for a “broad-based entertainment quiz show” that will be shown in a pre-watershed slot for 12 weeks with a 40-minute running time.

The independent sector anticipates a blizzard of call-outs for ideas from the public service broadcaster over the coming weeks and months as RTÉ seeks to fill holes in next year’s schedules and make up a shortfall in the amount it is obliged to spend each year on programming made by external companies.

Minimum spend

RTÉ is not expected to reach its statutory minimum spend of about €40 million on independent television and radio commissions in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic led to substantial production disruptions across the sector for much of the year.

Independent producers believe Montrose will instead avail of a clause in the Broadcasting Act that permits it to carry over any shortfall in spending to the following year. This has led to rising expectations that it will soon escalate its level of commissioning in a bid to play catch-up on its obligations.

The broadcaster recently announced call-outs for an RTÉ2 drama and scripted comedy in partnership with Screen Ireland, and also issued a separate briefing document for an RTÉ One contemporary drama "with broad popular appeal", although the resulting programmes in these cases are unlikely to air before 2022 at the earliest.

Covid-19 safe

The Saturday night quiz show will have a faster turnaround time, with proposals due by January 8th. Submitting production companies are asked to include their plan for making their production safe in light of Covid-19 and not to assume that an easing of restrictions is “inevitable” before the quiz is made.

The maximum budget per episode is €45,000, RTÉ said in its commissioning brief, while the preferred production model is one where a number of episodes can be recorded a day – an industry norm – to maximise cost efficiency. Original formats “as well as established ones” are welcomed.

The challenge for RTÉ One, according to the broadcaster, is “to continue to provide our core audience with engaging, relevant and entertaining content, while looking to attract new, younger viewers, particularly in the 25- to 44-year-old age group”.