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Toy Show the Musical mystery: Why did nobody in RTÉ listen to the concerns of Person 6?

One individual with industry knowledge warned that nine out of 10 musicals do not make their money back, but that didn’t seem to worry RTÉ

RTÉ must “adapt or die”, former director general Dee Forbes said once. It remains a valid mantra for all of the media, all of the time. But the independent auditor’s report into the Toy Show the Musical debacle is an object lesson in how not to confuse a desperate desire to evolve with survival itself. An organisation might wish to adapt, but die trying.

“We have been quietly working on Toy Show the Musical for quite a while,” Forbes said via press release in May 2022 — a little too quietly, members of the RTÉ board would surely now agree.

For Forbes, the stage show was the embodiment of her strategy to develop a new revenue stream from live events. She was “delighted” by it, telling the board later that month that there had been a “good reaction” to the ticket launch and “sales are good”.

Not everyone felt the same. In the 69-page report by Grant Thornton partner Paul Jacobs — for which Forbes was unable to be interviewed — it is “Person 6″ who emerges as the figure who both flagged the high financial risk and also realised within days that ticket sales were not what they needed to be.


“I had said at the very start that you understand in this business that nine out of 10 musicals don’t make their money back,” Person 6 told Jacobs.

Person 6 also said he advised “Person 3″ on industry norms for the percentage of ticket sales required to break even. (Although “they” is used in most of the report, male pronouns appear in one section for both Person 6 and Person 3.)

Person 3 — who is noted as someone who updated the RTÉ executive board on strategy — confirmed that “in fairness” Person 6 was “concerned about the break-even all the way through”.

Person 6 also reported expecting “a really strong reaction” to the launch and thinking the initial number of tickets sold — 3,000 out of 108,000 — was “very disappointing”. When only a further 2,000 tickets were sold the following week, “despite a strong advertising push”, he expressed his concerns in a call to Person 3, asking if there would be any consideration given to pulling the show.

Person 3 explained to Person 6 why this would not happen, and Person 6 understood and accepted his reasoning. He did not go as far as to suggest or recommend calling the whole thing off. Still, his obvious alarm is one of the “what ifs” of this entire fandango. What if greater attention had been paid to Person 6?

Was this a lost opportunity to swerve disaster? Could the musical have been stopped at this point? Signs point to yes.

Person 3 told Jacobs that the cancellation fees in RTÉ's contract with Convention Centre Dublin, its chosen venue, would have been a factor, but not the primary one. The real problem, it seemed, was that it was “unthinkable” to back out of the show once it had been publicly launched, as this would have had “implications beyond the financial in terms of reputation, confidence and market credibility”.

From this, it seems clear that RTÉ would have lost money and face by pulling the plug in mid-2022, but not as much money and face as it went on to lose. It actually had a readymade excuse to cancel or postpone by a year, as Covid was still doing the rounds and there was no guarantee that there would not be a winter wave.

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Some colossal issues arise from this mess. There’s the original mismanagement — the complacently over-optimistic projections, the unshakable conviction at the top of RTÉ that this is what it should be doing.

“Just like the Late Late Toy Show itself, so much care and thought is going into this musical,” said Forbes on the launch press release.

RTÉ pushed the project through by taking it to an informal “combo” meeting of handpicked board members, rather than a formal meeting of the board. Person 3 reported saying “we need to bring this to the board”, only to be told by someone else that “this was the process they wanted to go through”.

By the time it did come to the board in late April, the venue contract had been signed. “Person 26″ — an important figure throughout — insisted to Jacobs that “every board member had the opportunity to ask questions, raise objections or disapprove of the project” at this meeting. Other board members, however, described it as a “fait accompli”.

In this context, failure to take seriously or act upon the misgivings of Person 6 is perhaps a side issue. Nonetheless, it offers a fascinating insight into the RTÉ mindset.

Based on the language of the report, Person 6 was most likely not an executive at RTÉ, but one of the external consultants brought in to advise on the musical. Either way, I don’t believe it was Person 6′s responsibility to save RTÉ from itself.

Forbes was so keen that the musical be seen as a success, that she put her name to a defence of it as late as December 17th, 2022, claiming in an opinion piece in the Irish Independent that RTÉ was “very proud” of the production, even though it must have been apparent by then that it had flopped.

This sort of doubling down is not unique to RTÉ. Whenever organisations have limited money to allocate, stakes and tensions rise in tandem. If investment decisions backfire, the people who made them can become defensive about the role they played. They come to regard all sceptics as naysayers. Psychologically, it’s just easier to ignore your critics.

In this particular saga, RTÉ had corporate governance procedures in place, but it bypassed them. It engaged consultants at an early stage but appears to have made the classic error of not heeding their expertise.

A key question is this — was RTÉ arrogant enough to assume that its debut musical would somehow be the one in 10 that does, by Person 6′s reckoning, make its money back? Or did it hear his warnings perfectly well, but decide a loss was okay?