RTÉ risks ‘super-serving’ older audience, BAI warns

Research shows younger viewers abandoning traditional television faster than anticipated

A recent report from media consultants Mediatique found younger people had watched “considerably less TV” in 2018 than two years previously. Photograph: Andrea Obzerova/iStock

A recent report from media consultants Mediatique found younger people had watched “considerably less TV” in 2018 than two years previously. Photograph: Andrea Obzerova/iStock

 

RTÉ risks “super-serving” an older audience at the expense of younger viewers, the head of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has told the Government.

The view was expressed by the regulator’s chairman Prof Pauric Travers in a letter to Minister for Communications Richard Bruton, reflecting audience research completed on both RTÉ and TG4.

It represents a significant problem for the national broadcaster given separate recent research showing younger viewers are deserting traditional television faster than previously anticipated.

Instead, video-on-demand services such as Netflix and YouTube are favoured by the next generation of consumers.

In his letter to the Minister last April, recently put before the Houses of the Oireachtas, Prof Travers said pilot “audience yield” research conducted as part of a 2017 review provided “a significant level of additional insight” into how people are served by the public service broadcasters.

A “key observation” in that regard, he said, was that “RTÉ risks super-serving older audiences (55+) across services and under-serving younger audiences”.

The letter and its observations accompanied the Annual Review of Funding of Public Service Broadcasters 2017, conducted by the Communication Chambers consultancy firm on behalf of the BAI.

Despite the insight offered by the research, however, Prof Travers said audience yield data should be taken in context.

It “does not measure the impact or value of PSB content, therefore the adoption of strict audience yield-based targets should be largely avoided in the future”, he wrote.

The BAI is nevertheless “satisfied to recommend” further development of such audience-focused analysis.

The notion that older audiences might be “super-served” by the broadcaster will be of concern given warning signs that younger future consumers are no longer engaging with traditional television.

‘Considerably less’

A separate recent report from media consultants Mediatique, also commissioned by the regulator, found younger people had watched “considerably less TV” in 2018 than two years previously.

While 15- to 24-year-olds were previously forecast to consume a daily average of 95 minutes of television in 2018, they actually watched 70 minutes, an unexpected rate of decline.

In September, RTÉ director general Dee Forbes told staff via email to expect cutbacks in the short to medium term as the station could no longer afford to “continue as we are”.

“With commercial revenues and public funding both significantly below what is needed to operate the organisation in its current form, our current financial situation is not like anything we have seen before,” she said.

In his letter to Mr Bruton, Prof Travers noted the continuing deficits run by the broadcaster are now “unsustainable”.