Virgin TV chief wants review of RTÉ before grant of extra funding

Pat Kiely wants the Government to review RTÉ’s hybrid model before making any changes to the licence fee or funding

Pat Kiely, managing director of Virgin Media TV, believes RTÉ should look to achieve efficiencies rather than seeking additional income from the licence fee. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Pat Kiely, managing director of Virgin Media TV, believes RTÉ should look to achieve efficiencies rather than seeking additional income from the licence fee. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

The head of Virgin Media Television has said the Government should conduct a full review of RTÉ’s financing and operating structures before agreeing to any changes in the licence fee model or other additional funding.

His comments come in the wake of RTÉ reporting a loss of €13 million for 2018, and restating its case to Government for changes to its funding model.

The Montrose broadcaster received €189.1 million in licence fee income last year but its director general Dee Forbes noted in its annual report that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland had recommended that RTÉ should receive an additional €30 million immediately.

The annual licence fee has been stuck at €160 since early 2008, and this funding is threatened by the increasing use by consumers of streaming services on mobile devices.

“Before any new funding model is considered or before any new funding is delivered [to RTÉ] we would be calling for a full review of RTÉ’s hybrid public service broadcasting/commercial model and efficiencies. Because we can certainly demonstrate a lot of parallels about how efficiencies can be driven in this industry without affecting quality,” said Pat Kiely, managing director of Virgin Media TV.

Formerly known as TV3, Virgin Media is privately owned, ultimately by John Malone’s US-based Liberty Global group, and is not in receipt of direct funding from the licence fee.

“That’s not something we’ve ever sought and I think there’s work to be done before that would ever be considered,” Mr Kiely said, while arguing that RTÉ should look to achieve efficiencies rather than seeking additional income from the licence fee.

More transparency

According to Mr Kiely, RTÉ is delivering more than 30 services at present. “Are all those services still appropriate?” he said. “It needs to become more transparent in how it reports its public service obligations and content versus its commercial activities. Clear separation and clear transparency.”

Mr Kiely said Virgin Media TV had a “cracking” 2018, growing its audience by 7 or 8 per cent, it revenues by double digits, and its profitability “marginally”.

However, he declined to disclose precise details of its financial performance as Virgin Media does not publish separate financial data for its television unit, instead bundling it with other group entities in Ireland.

“We are not in receipt of public funding, RTÉ is in receipt of €140 million. There is increasing scrutiny of the public purse [and] a growing demand to ensure value for money,” he said. “We wouldn’t receive the additional funding we’ve secured [from its parent company] to grow the business here, to build infrastructure for capital investment of €15 million in this business in the last three to four years... That has all come on the basis of a business model that demonstrates a return.”

He added that the company had made a profit while also paying for “premium” sports rights such as the Six Nations rugby and Uefa Champions League.

Mr Kiely also said Virgin Media broadcasts more hours of news each day on television than RTÉ.