RTÉ struggling with ‘unsustainable dominance’, says TV3

Virgin-owned broadcaster calls for more transparency and industry collaboration

TV3 Group managing director Pat Kiely  said the station was “not looking for handouts” and did not need them. Photograph: Dave Meehan

TV3 Group managing director Pat Kiely said the station was “not looking for handouts” and did not need them. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

RTÉ’s financial woes spring in part from an “unsustainable position of dominance” that will see it emerge with at least 15 of the 20 most-watched shows on Irish television this year, according to rival broadcaster TV3 Group.

TV3 managing director Pat Kiely said RTÉ would “still enjoy a higher share of the viewership and larger slice of the advertising market” than any other state-owned broadcaster it could identify.

Mr Kiely was speaking in the wake of last Thursday’s session of the Public Accounts Committee, at which director-general Dee Forbes reiterated RTÉ’s call for reform of An Post’s licence fee collection system and the introduction of other measures that would give it greater certainty on its future funding.

RTÉ has signed off on its accounts for 2017 and when they are published by the Department of Communications in the months ahead they are expected to show it made its third consecutive annual loss and its seventh loss in the past nine years.

“RTÉ are clearly struggling to come to terms with what has always been an unsustainable position of dominance,” Mr Kiely said.

Even when TV3’s possession of the Six Nations rugby broadcasting rights are taken into account, he said he expected “15 or 16” of the most-watched programmes in 2018 to be RTÉ shows. “The BBC doesn’t have that level of dominance,” he said.

RTÉ has lobbied the Government for reforms on the basis that it cannot afford to fulfil its public service remit in light of high licence fee evasion and pressure on commercial revenues.

However, TV3 believes there should be more transparency in how RTÉ uses the public funding it receives and how it differentiates this from its commercial activities. The TV3 boss is also seeking “greater collaboration” between the two broadcasters, saying this would be of most benefit to local talent and productions.

Promotion concern

Mr Kiely has written to Ms Forbes to highlight a “concern” that while TV3 promotes RTÉ personalities by inviting them on to its shows, TV3’s on-screen talent is typically absent from similar slots on RTÉ’s services.

TV3 Group, which has been owned by Liberty Global’s Virgin Media since 2015, is keen to be part of the political conversation about broadcasting reform at a time when Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is expected to make a number of amendments to the Broadcasting Act.

Mr Kiely stressed that TV3 was “not looking for handouts” and did not need them. “We would see TV3 as a good model of how you can be a local broadcaster and also be profitable,” he said.

While the group may be owned by a multinational cable operator, it has long had international owners and has always been required to make a financial return. “The reality is that TV3 is facing the exact same threats as RTÉ.”

A rebranding of the group’s channels, which also include 3e and Be3, to reflect Virgin Media’s ownership, is “very much still in our plans”, Mr Kiely said.

A move to rename the channels VM1, VM2 and VM3 in the second quarter was deferred in March, but it is likely to take place before the end of 2018.