TG4 spent €25.8 million on creative services in 2020, with the majority of this sum spent on commissioning content from regional independent production companies, according to its annual report for the "exceptionally challenging" year.
The public service broadcaster received €40.36 million in total income last year, up 4.6 per cent on 2019, as additional Government funding was secured to cover costs triggered by the Covid-19 crisis.
While TG4’s initial exchequer funding was €34.32 million, the same as in 2019, it later received a supplementary grant of €1.9 million. Commercial revenues declined just 2.2 per cent to €4.23 million, which it described as “a very solid performance” in light of the pandemic.
Operating expenditure at TG4, which will turn 25 years old on October 31st, rose 5.15 per cent to €39.96 million last year.
It spent €20.6 million on commissions from independent production companies, while 77 per cent of its public funding was invested in Irish language content. Programme expenditure rose 6.1 per cent, while staff costs were up 6.2 per cent.
The broadcaster's pandemic response included the commissioning of new educational series Cúla4 ar Scoil to cater for demand from homeschoolers, as well as programmes such as Dúiseacht, a documentary series following life on the Dingle peninsula as it emerged from the first lockdown, and Le Ceangal, a "Zoom-com" aimed at online audiences.
The year saw it continue its investment in the Irish language cinema initiative Cine4, which is also backed by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Screen Ireland (Fís Éireann), with the film Arracht selected as Ireland's entry in the Academy Awards' Best International Feature Film category. Another Cine4 commission, Foscadh, has been selected this year.
Despite chaos in the live sporting calendar, TG4 retained its position as the sixth most-watched television channel in the Republic in 2020, having moved up one spot from seventh in 2019.
Some 3.66 million people, or 83 per cent of the population, watched TG4 at some point during 2020, while its average viewing share was 1.83 per cent and its peak-time audience share rose slightly to 1.92 per cent.
"This share and channel position was a considerable achievement in 2020 given that a significant amount of TG4's output was severely disrupted by the pandemic as productions were put on hold or delayed, and as many sporting and cultural events were cancelled," said director-general Alan Esslemont.
Amid a “major acceleration” in non-linear consumption, streams on TG4 Player soared 158 per cent last year, Cúla4 Player streams rose 34 per cent and views to TG4’s popular social media account climbed 60 per cent.
The broadcaster, which employs 92 people and commissions all of its programmes from the independent sector, received a €3.5 million boost to its annual budget for 2020 and was recently allocated a further €4.2 million in Budget 2022 – the largest increase it has received since 2008.
“We believe this additional funding reflects the confidence the Government has in TG4, and in our strategy for Ireland’s regional independent production sector,” said Siún Ní Raghallaigh, cathaoirleach (chair) of the TG4 board.
But it is "imperative" for TG4 to address changes in the media market, including the increased influence of streamers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus, she said.
“The growth of these highly funded services in Ireland means a growth of highly resourced English-language content and they are putting Irish culture and stories and the Irish language at risk.”
Over the past year, Mr Esslemont has drawn attention to a "major imbalance" in public service media funding that saw it receive just 18.4 per cent of RTÉ's licence fee funding in 2019, while he has also highlighted a "systemic long-term underfunding" of public service media in the Republic compared to other European Broadcasting Union (EBU) markets.
As it awaits the outcome of the Future of Media Commission’s deliberations on a path forward for funding, TG4 is preparing to celebrate the “important landmark” of its 25th birthday on Halloween.
“While 25 years ago there was opposition across Irish society to the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge, a quarter of a century has seen the emergence of TG4 as a genuine force for Irish language audio-visual innovation,” Mr Esslemont said.
“The board, management and staff of TG4, together with our partners, will continue in our efforts to reimagine the role of TG4 and status of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht in Irish society.”