RTÉ needs ‘immediate’ €30m funding rise, says regulator

Current funding for RTÉ and TG4 ‘not sufficient’ to ensure their sustainability – BAI

Amy Huberman on the set of ‘Finding Joy’, a comedy drama made for RTÉ by Treasure Entertainment

Amy Huberman on the set of ‘Finding Joy’, a comedy drama made for RTÉ by Treasure Entertainment

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RTÉ should “immediately” receive a €30 million increase in its annual funding “at a minimum” and TG4 should be given an additional €6 million by the Government, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has said.

The regulator said the role and value of public service broadcasting “should not be taken for granted” at a time when RTÉ and TG4 were facing significant challenges in a rapidly evolving media industry.

There is “strong justification” for the increases, it said, as both broadcasters “continue to deliver value for Irish audiences”, but the current funding available to both is “not sufficient” to ensure their sustainability.

“The BAI requests that the minister and the Government urgently address the financing required for public service broadcasting,” chairman Pauric Travers said.

The regulator’s statement follows the completion of its five-year funding review of both organisations, which has yet to be published.

“Given the urgency of RTÉ’s current funding position, the increased level of public funding recommended should be available to the broadcaster immediately,” the BAI said.

Its recommendations have been submitted to Minister for Communications Denis Naughten.

The BAI added that “there well may be a case for increased funding in excess of €30 million”.

The €6 million a year increase in funding for TG4 should “have full effect from 2018 and onwards”, it said.

It drew attention to the benefit this would have for the wider Irish independent audio-visual production sector, which has been under pressure in recent years as RTÉ halved its spending on independent commissions.

The regulator highlighted the impact on RTÉ and TG4 of the fragmentation of audiences, which has come amid growth of on-demand services and content.

Licence fee

It also noted that there has been no increase in the television licence fee, which costs eligible households €160, in a decade. The last increase was in January 2008, when it rose by €2.

The BAI did not say how it thought an increase in annual funding should be achieved, but in recent years RTÉ has consistently lobbied for a crackdown on licence fee evasion, an extension of the eligibility for the fee and legislation that would allow it to collect what are known as retransmission fees from commercial platform operators such as Sky and Virgin Media.

RTÉ received funding of €186 million through the licence fee in 2017, according to its most recent annual report, while TG4 received Government funding of €32.7 million last year.

However, the former’s commercial income has dramatically reduced from a peak of €245.5 million in 2007 to €151.5 million last year.

RTÉ recorded a deficit in six of the past nine years and only avoided one in 2017 as a result of cash generated from selling land. Its senior management, including director-general Dee Forbes, has been increasingly concerned that the Government is simply ignoring its long-term financial challenges.

At a crossroads

TG4 was recently awarded an extra €985,000 on top of its existing public funding to help it support new jobs and build its audience. However, director-general Alan Esslemont said it remained “at a crossroads”, facing competition from both national and global rivals with “major content budgets”.

Prof Travers said the BAI acknowledged “the valuable role played by the independent commercial and community sectors in providing choice and diversity for audiences”. The regulator will “continue to engage” with these sectors on the development of sustainable funding models, he said.

“With regard to RTÉ and TG4, the BAI notes the significant changes that both public service broadcasters have implemented to reduce costs and increase efficiencies in recent years,” he said.

“Current levels of public funding are not sufficient to sustain the reach and impact of current provision, let alone allow the broadcasters to evolve in such a way as to adequately fulfil their statutory remit in serving Irish audiences.”

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