RTÉ’s slip back into the red means change vital to secure future

The deficit for 2016 is also likely to be higher than the €2.8 million recorded last year

RTÉ may not be as deeply in the red as it was in 2012 (when its fourth consecutive deficit amounted to €65.2 million), but its inability to break even in 2015, together with the prospect of another deficit in 2016, suggests that it cannot simply go on as before.

Even with a 4 per cent rise in commercial income, it could not repeat the modest surpluses that it achieved in 2013 and 2014. The deficit for 2016 is also likely to be higher than the €2.8 million recorded last year because of the expense involved in broadcasting events such as the 1916 centenary celebrations and the general election.

If RTÉ is to provide the services required by its remit without racking up losses, the Government needs to legislate for one or a number of available, long-touted policies.

The broadcasting charge – which would have been levied on the rising number of Irish households with no television set – has died more deaths than Bobby Ewing, Dirty Den and Kenny from South Park put together. But there are other ways to secure the future of RTÉ.

They include: enabling An Post to become more efficient licence fee collectors; giving An Post power to access the customer data of pay-TV providers; awarding the contract for licence fee collection to another company that promises to be more efficient; and passing legislation that would allow RTÉ and other broadcasters to charge pay-TV providers for their content.

There is also the question of what RTÉ can do for itself – or be persuaded to do for itself.

The broadcaster dubbed "Montrosia" by presenter Ryan Tubridy should be able to raise a nice sum from the sale of part of its lands in Donnybrook.

These proposals have been under consideration since last autumn. But the money is earmarked for long-term infrastructure upgrades rather than meeting day-to-day operational costs or, say, making TV programmes people want to watch.

Operating costs increased in both 2014 and 2015, with personnel costs rising €11.3 million last year. It is difficult to see this trend continuing. Costs may still be down 27 per cent on their pre-recession 2008 level, but the wider media industry has changed substantially since then.

The year 2008 should be seen as a useful benchmark for measuring the extent of RTÉ’s cutbacks and efficiencies, rather than a destination to which it can return.

RTÉ's place in the commercial market is to some extent outside its control. Inflation in sports rights, difficulties attracting younger viewers and a suddenly rich rival in the shape of TV3 Group are just some of the items that will be on the in-tray of new director-general Dee Forbes.