RTÉ cites cost of special events for €13m loss

Director-general Dee Forbes says licence fee payers ‘deserve more’ from broadcaster

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes said there had been “no substantial response” from Government on future funding.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes said there had been “no substantial response” from Government on future funding.

 

RTÉ recorded a loss of €13 million in 2018, with the State-owned public service broadcaster citing the cost of “special events”, such as the Papal visit, the presidential election and its coverage of the FIFA World Cup.

These three events combined cost €7.2 million, it said, bringing its total costs to €339.8 million for the year.

The broadcaster’s total revenue increased by €1.5 million to €339.1 million last year. Within this, licence fee funding rose €3 million to €189.1 million, while commercial revenues slipped 1 per cent, or by €1.5 million, to €150 million.

The broadcaster, which has bank debt of €50 million, has now recorded a deficit in seven of the last 10 years, with its surplus in 2017 only achieved as a result of the sale of land at its Montrose campus in Donnybrook, Dublin.

It took a depreciation and amortisation charge of €12.4 million last year, the same as in 2017.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes said licence fee payers “deserve more” from the organisation, but it had to “curtail” what it wanted to do in light of the challenging market.

“We want to do more,” Ms Forbes said. “We are full of programme ideas, but every day we have to curtail our own ambitions and the creative ambitions of the broader independent production sector due to our constrained resources.

“TV licence payers want us to do more and deserve more from us. However, it will not be possible for RTÉ to maintain and enhance what we do and fulfil our remit without action from Government and a solution to the funding of public service media in Ireland. ”

RTÉ cited the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) recommendation that the broadcaster receive an immediate €30 million increase in public funding.

It was awarded additional funding of €8.6 million in Budget 2019, however there is no sign of the licence fee reform it has lobbied for consistently over the past decade.

Evasion rate

The broadcaster highlighted an evasion rate of 14 per cent that is more than twice that of the UK and seven times the evasion rate in Germany.

“The case for reform of the TV licence system has also been made in numerous reviews. However, to date, there has been no substantial response from Government,” Ms Forbes said.

RTÉ’s commercial revenues fell sharply at the height of the recession in 2009 and have continued to dwindle since then. In 2018, the market remained subdued as a result of the dampening effect of Brexit on marketing budgets and a financially unfavourable shift in viewing patterns away from linear television.

Television advertising and sponsorship revenues fell 1 per cent, cancelling out a 5 per cent improvement in radio revenues and a 6 per cent rise in digital advertising and sponsorship revenues. The RTÉ Guide had a “challenging year”, RTÉ said, with a small decline in turnover only partly offset by a cover price increase.

There was no change in staff costs in 2018, although employee numbers fell to 1,822 as of December 2018, down from 1,924 the year before. Some 250 of these employees are part-time, whereas 317 employees were part-time in 2017.

RTÉ said about 160 people had left the organisation over 2017 and 2018 under a voluntary exit programme that initially targeted a reduction of 200-300 employees.

In 2018, it used some €4.4 million in its land sale proceeds to pay for the revamp of a news studio, upgrading soap opera Fair City to HD and new online servers.

Sport spending

RTÉ did not give a further breakdown of the cost of “special events” in 2018. It spent €41.7 million on sport last year, a similar figure to 2017, while news and current affairs - the genre of programming it spends the most on - was allocated €67.6 million, up from €63.2 million.

Coverage of Pope Francis’s visit was watched by 486,400 on the Sunday and was the 41st most-watched programme of the year. The most-watched Fifa World Cup match, the semi-final between Croatia and England, attracted an average of 924,400 viewers, making it the fourth biggest programme on Irish television in 2018.

Moya Doherty, chairwoman of the RTÉ board, said the pressures and demands on public service media were increasing every year.

“The second phase of technological shift is upon us, with the rapid emergence of virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence - all curating and shaping our media experience,” she said.

“If public service media is to continue to thrive, it will have to adapt and do so quickly, while remaining firmly rooted in the enduring values that remain more vital than ever.”