Gold as an investment

RTÉ and its future: Industry insiders on a station at a crossroads

Sep 24, 2022

RTÉ is in trouble. Like most terrestrial broadcasters it faces falling audiences, increased competition from streamers (who don’t have its public-service obligations) and reducing income. RTÉ wants some form of licence fee reform. Currently, RTÉ receives roughly €200 million a year through the licence fee and a further €140 million through commercial activity, mainly advertising; €65 million a year is believed to be lost through the 15 per cent of households who evade payment. Another 15 per cent of households have no televisions so aren’t required to pay, although they may still use the network’s online services. In 2019, the then government committed to giving an additional €50 million to the station over five years.

The Future of Media Commission submitted a report to the Government last summer and the Cabinet is finally expected to approve its publication in the coming weeks. The Cabinet is likely to reject the commission’s key proposal that public-service broadcasting be funded directly from the exchequer. Another frequently proposed idea is to replace the licence with a form of household charge.

We asked culture creators, competitors, academics and broadcast professionals for their thoughts and opinions on RTÉ’s legacy, output and the future of public-service broadcasting in Ireland. It’s worth noting that many people we asked, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, declined to talk publicly about RTÉ. Our interviewees spoke about the need to fund public broadcasting for current affairs, arts, drama and niche concerns, while also having specific critiques around RTÉ’s output, salaries, the performance of the RTÉ Player and the institution’s interactions with the independent sector.

Paul Farrell was appointed managing director of Virgin Media Television in May 2020.

Paul Farrell, managing director of Virgin Media Television

Is RTÉ important to you?

Indigenous media has never been more important. RTÉ, as a national broadcaster, has a huge responsibility. And I think in some areas it stands up and performs well ... in others it lacks accountability, transparency and, in some ways, creativity.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

I think they do news and current affairs well ... I would have always been a huge fan of Prime Time in the investigative sense ... When [RTÉ does] international things like the Olympics, how they bring that to life from an Irish perspective is as good as anyone.

It’s not delivering value for money ... I think what they don’t do well is in getting bang for their buck around investment in rights, investment in international content, and how they leverage that content across different platforms, in particular their player. It’s very well documented over the years how bad an experience the player is.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

We said in our submission to the Future of Media Commission to make RTÉ One, Radio One and RTÉ News totally ad-free. Let them run on public funding. And then let [their] other channels survive solely on competitive performance ... I think that would change dramatically how RTÉ plan and use their resources to the better for everyone.

What about the idea of funding public-service broadcasting directly from the exchequer?

I would prefer some form of household contribution so that people do have a say and a stake in what’s being created.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

I think ... they don’t ever separate what they use public funds for and what they use commercial funds for.

Give them a budget to operate against and focus that on public-service content. That €200 million [could] become €120 million, and then give the €80 million to regional organisations, newspapers and other media organisations to do other things with.

Element Pictures co-founder Ed Guiney. Photograph: Eric Luke

Ed Guiney producer and co-founder of Element Pictures (Normal People, Conversation with Friends)

Is RTÉ important to you?

It’s crucial to have an Irish PSB [public-service broadcaster] reflecting the world back to Irish audiences. But to be honest I have a love/hate relationship with the institution, while being very fond of lots of people who work there. It provides such an important service to Irish audiences and sometimes does it so well. Other times it drives me mad.

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

It’s a while ago now but Scrap Saturday was a brilliant show — caustic, daring, provocative and very funny. Also loved Home School Hub during the pandemic — it is public-service broadcasting at its best and I loved the scrappy energy and passionate commitment to serving an audience in an entertaining and engaging way.

What does RTÉ do well and what does RTÉ do badly?

RTÉ generally does current affairs and news well although it felt like a Government propaganda network at times during Covid rather than a dispassionate, analytical news service. But maybe that’s what the country needed. I think there is generally a failure of imagination and innovation on RTÉ TV. There are way too many programmes revolving around home improvement ... and too many imported formats. And, of course, way too little drama and comedy, which are hard to do but so important and appealing to audiences.

How should public broadcasting be funded?

I think it’s crucial that the licence fee is retained in some form. I’d be in favour of a household levy as so much TV is now consumed on computer/phones, etc. Also, I can’t understand why the Future of Media report is so slow in being released. I suspect it must have something interesting to say in order for it to be delayed for so long. If it was anodyne they’d have published it.

What’s the biggest threat to RTÉ’s future?

I think RTÉ has a baked-in culture of being the only game in town. And obviously that hasn’t been the case for decades. But, with one or two exceptions ... they are generally poor in how they interact with Irish talent, programme suppliers and the creative sector. Most people who make programmes still feel unwelcome and unappreciated at RTÉ. And that’s dangerous for them as there are so many other entities out there who want to work with talented performers and creators and are so much more front-footed and aware of the competition for talent.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

Its location. It’s the most expensive car park in Ireland. They should sell [all of] their campus and build a new, state-of-the-art facility in the outskirts of Dublin. This might also catalyse a deep and profound modernisation of the institution. In most other countries PSBs have had radical overhauls. RTÉ has tinkered at the margins.

RTÉ radio and television presenter Sarah McInerney. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sarah McInerney, RTÉ Drivetime presenter

Is RTÉ important to you?

It’s literally the soundtrack to my life. My parents never turned the dial. The same with the TV. We didn’t have the channels!

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

The Marian Finucane interview with Nuala O’Faolain. It just had me stuck to the ground and it still does any time I listen to it now ... I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it since, the honesty of it, and the pain of it ... Absolutely top class, unbelievable broadcast radio.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

It’s clear from the numbers that when people were really scared and really worried [during the pandemic] RTÉ is where they went because they thought it was something they could trust ... I think it does big news really well. It doesn’t get the New Year’s Eve timing really well ... I was there for the time two years ago ... I was yabbering on about a story and we missed the countdown.

How should public broadcasting be funded?

I don’t really have a strong take on this ... I do think it should be funded. We will cover stories that other commercial stations won’t do.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

I’d love to see is more diverse faces ... There are half a million non-Irish nationals in the country. There has been movement, and it’s good ... There’s an internship programme in radio, where we’re bringing in people from different backgrounds and that’s really positive. What I would be afraid of, if we don’t move on that, is that we’re talking to ourselves in a bubble.

Darren Smith, television producer and managing director of Kite Entertainment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Darren Smith, MD of Kite Entertainment (Gogglebox, Ireland’s Fittest Family)

Is RTÉ important to you?

RTÉ́ is massively important to me for a variety of reasons but in the interest of full disclosure they are also our biggest customer.

What steals your attention away from RTÉ?

As the father of a telly-loving nine-year-old I’ve lately been brought back to big family entertainment shows and gameshows, which automatically lead you to BBC1 and Virgin. As a child of the 80s, Channel 4 will always feel like my spiritual telly home, its core spirit of pushing boundaries is the reason the entire UK broadcasting sector is as innovative and rich as it is ... The fact that the Tories are flogging it feels like they are determined to prove just how petty and obnoxious they are.

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

The Den. As a telly-obsessed kid, I was as likely to tune into RTÉ’s 1980s kids’ output as I was to pick up the Bible for a quick read. Then Zig and Zag landed and suddenly the dustiest button on the remote was getting regular action.

What does RTÉ do well and what does RTÉ do badly?

I’ll refer you to the part of my first answer about them being our biggest customer and avoid publicly pointing out anything I think they do badly, though as an indie you always wish they would encourage us to be wilder in our thinking by actually commissioning a few wilder ideas.

It’s at its best when its capturing big national moments, be that via sport, entertainment, politics, etc. Crass as it might sound, they had a brilliant pandemic, from the Home School Hub to Comic Relief ... Keeping the Late Late ship sailing through it all as it did its weird weekly town-hall meeting thing was no small task.

What’s the biggest threat to RTÉ’s future?

Apathy. Those who knock it will miss it the most. Ireland without RTÉ will see them have to turn their rage on the streamers, British channels, Silicon Valley tech companies, etc. And guess what? They’re not listening because once they have your sub they don’t care.

Documentary maker Kim Bartley

Kim Bartley, award-winning documentary maker

Is RTÉ important to you?

A strong public-service broadcaster committed to editorial objectivity is hugely important, especially at a time when public trust in the media is at a low and we shouldn’t be complacent about it ... Without it, the experience of seeing our culture and experiences reflected on the screen will keep shrinking. You just have to listen to the YouTube accents of children across the country ... to realise how important it is for us to nurture quality home-grown programming.

What do you watch or listen to?

Anything I watch on RTÉ, I watch in catch-up on the player (when it works). I’m not attached to any particular streamer ... I know what I want to watch and I get it wherever I can, whether that’s on a catch-up service, a streamer or pay per view.

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

I love the series Hands about crafts and The Game about hurling. To me those are examples of the essence of what public-service broadcasting should be about. It’s not as easy to watch and cheap to make as a house renovation series but stands the test of time and forms part of the visual archive of who we are ... And Love/ Hate was a turning point for RTÉ.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

One of my issues with RTÉ is the lack of representation of working-class voices and experiences. I feel its viewpoint is quite narrowly middle class and I hear this all the time from people when I’m out filming around the country. I think RTÉ’s documentary and news output has grown in scope and quality in the last few years. I understand the commercial reality and the pressure to chase viewing figures but as a public-service broadcaster I feel it’s important that RTÉ not lose itself in the battle for ratings and that it continues to give a platform to programming that is culturally, socially and educationally important even when this might not be guaranteeing huge viewing numbers.

What’s the biggest threat to RTÉ’s future?

Its institutionalisation. If RTÉ is to remain relevant it needs to take more creative risk as well as invest in new and diverse voices, not just as a box-ticking exercise.

Drivetime presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra. Photograph: RTE

Cormac Ó hEadhra, RTÉ Drivetime presenter

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

I think it does current affairs well. And not just the political dog-eat-dog stuff ... But highlighting homelessness and housing ... I wish they could do more in terms of traditional culture on mainstream RTÉ One and Two.

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

Today Tonight when Brendan O’Brien confronted the General. He confronted him on the street ... When RTÉ does investigative stuff, they don’t always get the credit they deserve.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

It has to reflect whatever service they want RTÉ to be. And if they value what RTÉ does in terms of current affairs and analysis around election time ... That kind of granular detail ... it has to be valued monetarily. The threat is other platforms, but the greatest threat is the mindset.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

Sometimes change doesn’t happen as quickly as it could, maybe [laughs]. I’ll leave that hanging there.

Historian Diarmuid Ferriter. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Diarmaid Ferriter, historian and broadcaster

Is RTÉ important to you?

For people in my generation, we grew up with RTÉ and we still live with RTÉ every day ... but I’m pretty conscious that it wouldn’t be the first port of call for my teenage kids.

What do RTÉ do well and what do they do badly?

[Gunnar] Rugheimer, the second controller of programmes, said that current affairs had to be “the thumping heartbeat” of RTÉ and in many respects it has remained so ... There’s a very noble tradition of a strong irreverence and determination to interrogate those who are in power.

It doesn’t do comedy well ... One of the important things about the public-service broadcasting remit is that it can do programmes like the History Show, which obviously I have a professional interest in ... and arts shows like Arena. It’d be difficult to make the commercial case for them.

How do you think public-service broadcasting should be funded in the future?

In the region of €65 million was what RTÉ reckoned was the [licence fee] evasion cost. At the same time direct funding from the State can be tricky as well, in that it might create certain pressures. There’s no solution that’s not going to involve some kind of discomfort.

What’s the one thing you would change about RTÉ?

I would cap salaries at a much lower level. I think there are too many who are overpaid ... They have a mantra about, ‘Well, this is what the market value is and they could go somewhere else.’ As far as I’m concerned, let them go off ... It should come with public-service broadcasting that you link the top salaries to the public service.

Author Marian Keyes. Photograph: Alan Betson (Alan Betson)

Marian Keyes, best-selling author and BBC podcaster

Is RTÉ important to you?

I feel having a national broadcaster matters to us as a country. It should speak for us and reflect who we are.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

What do I like about RTÉ? Programmes that are local: talkshows (The Late Late Show and Tommy Tiernan) and documentaries with content about Ireland. I love Nationwide, its gentleness is great for the nerves.

Coverage of national events such as the ploughing championships and St Patrick’s Day parades from around the country brings me a sense of belonging. Our six and nine o’clock news can be very good on international events — the sensibility is grown-up. (Seriously, you should see other countries’.) But on national matters, there’s less objectivity and sometimes an obvious bias.

What don’t I like? That we’re still subjected to the Angelus. We’re a modern country where people practice many religions, or none at all, and this is a throwback to entirely different times.

What’s the one thing you would change about RTÉ?

The thing that confounds me is how Ireland punches way above its weight with storytellers and comedians, yet that wealth of creative talent isn’t reflected on our national broadcaster.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

Funding RTÉ directly from the exchequer means we’ll say goodbye to any objective reporting about the government of the day. It would be all too easy for funding to be cut following government criticism.

BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane

Fergal Keane, BBC foreign correspondent

Is RTÉ important to you?

RTÉ is in my DNA. My dad was an actor with the RTÉ repertory company and some of my earliest memories are going into the old radio studios on Henry Street to watch him record radio dramas. I got my own broadcasting break with RTÉ ... So I am a supporter of the idea of RTÉ, the idea that we need a public-service broadcaster that can deliver a broad range of programming, especially in news and the arts, free of the ratings pressures that dominate in a purely commercial environment.

Do you watch or listen to much RTÉ?

I love Sunday Miscellany. There is nothing like it on English language radio anywhere. I am a big fan of the archives section on the website. It is a store of treasures ... Obviously I listen to/watch a lot of BBC (they pay my wages!) but I also watch Netflix and Apple TV.

What is your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

On radio Julian Vignoles’s beautiful documentary [The Story of] Woodbrook, based on David Thomson’s memoir of his time as a tutor at a fading Anglo-Irish house in Co Roscommon. One of the best pieces of radio ever. Sublime. On television, Seán Ó Mordha’s film on James Joyce Is There One Who Understands Me?

What’s the biggest threat to RTÉ’s future?

Streaming services, obviously, but also the danger that the public will not see why RTÉ matters, how it informs Irish democracy, how it is different from other broadcasting services.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

Be bold in reviving the great tradition of documentaries and drama. And satire. Please: satire! Courage.

Dr Debbie Ging. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill (Dara Mac Donaill)

Debbie Ging, associate professor of digital media and gender in DCU

Is RTÉ important to you?

Having a public-service broadcaster is important to me. It’s a fundamental part of a democratic society and a vital component in holding politicians, corporations and institutions to account. That is not to say that RTÉ embodies the kind of radical pluralism I’d like to see, and yet without it, would we have had programmes like Louis Lentin’s Dear Daughter and Mary Raftery’s States of Fear, which led to the establishment of the Ryan commission? Would the mistreatment of children in the Giraffe and Hyde and Seek crèches have been exposed? Or the Leas Cross nursing home scandal? ... If we had only commercial stations, would space be made for Irish language programming, educational children’s programming, minority voices, rural perspectives, etc?

What does it do well and what does it do badly?

It has fallen into the trap of fuelling unnecessary controversy on a number of occasions by giving oxygen to the voices of transphobes, homophobes and bullies in the name of ‘balance’. RTÉ would do well to follow the model of the Danish public-service broadcaster and commission dramas that have something meaningful to say, as well as telling good stories. Love/Hate was a prime example of a show that had huge potential to offer rich social commentary on crime, the war on drugs, and policing ... but it was ultimately a voyeuristic fetishisation of gangster lifestyles.

There are notable exceptions — Roddy Doyle and Mike Winterbottom’s Family and Lenny Abrahamson’s Prosperity stand out for me ... but I think we have yet to produce an Irish television drama with the social impact of This Is England, Small Axe, I May Destroy You or It’s A Sin.

ShinAwiL Productions chief executive Larry Bass

Larry Bass, chief executive of ShinAwil (Dancing with the Stars, Last Singer Standing) and former member of the RTÉ board

Is RTÉ important to you?

It’s a really important part of marking our culture, defining our country, and putting a window and a mirror to who we are ... If that dissipates, what plugs us into who we are as Irish people?

What’s the biggest threat to RTÉ?

The biggest threat is the lack of support by the nation ... We have a scenario where there’s been no licence fee increase in over 15 years. I’m not aware of any service in the country that has no increase ... If we do not support and pay for Irish content, there will cease to be any.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

I think the licence fee is becoming not fit for purpose, because it’s just not being collected. There’s a significant portion of people now who don’t have TV in the house but are still watching content ... I absolutely believe that the only answer is to actually have a dedicated fund ... If we have any desire to have any public discourse, we have to protect it and pay for it.

What do RTÉ do well and what do they do badly?

I think they do news and current affairs well ... We have an Irish population that have a grasp on world affairs, unlike a lot of countries. With sport, I think they punch above their weight ... I think there should be an RTÉ sport channel. And I think there should be an Irish film channel ... The fact that there’s no breakfast television is an own goal, frankly.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

I think RTÉ needs to move to being a publisher broadcaster [which outsources production, like Channel 4] and to stop trying to be all things to everyone ... That would free them to do bigger, better and more ambitious things. I would love to sit down and ask: ‘What does RTÉ need to look like in 10 years’ time?’ and design it now, so that it’s future-proofed.

Siobhan McSweeney as Sister Michael in Derry Girls, pictured with fellow actresses Beccy Henderson and Leah O'Rourke.

Siobhán McSweeney, actor (Derry Girls, Holding, Redemption)

Is RTÉ important to you?

I believe in a publicly-funded State broadcaster. I think in this ever-depressing time of the ole misinformation and combative discussions, everyone deserves access to balanced agenda-free news reportage.

I also believe fundamentally in the power of shared democratic cultural landscapes. I love we all had Bosco growing up. RTÉ is very important ... I also believe RTÉ has an obligation to promote and nurture home-grown talent. Writers, crew, directors, and, of course, the odd actor, we shouldn’t have to leave Ireland to work in telly.

I listen to RTÉ radio every day, wherever I am in the world. I will watch new dramas on RTÉ television and will tune into the news, but I must admit it’s been less and less frequent. The quality of the work is too variable and infrequent to keep up to date with everything. Which is deeply disappointing and frustrating.

What does RTÉ do badly?

Drama. Comedy. Foresight. Time and time again I hear of talented writers and performers having to take their stuff elsewhere as RTÉ do not have the resources, time slots or inclination to take new scripts and ideas and nurture and just make them! Same old story. Good scripts left to rot in development rooms. Emails going unanswered. Organisationally frustrating.

RTÉ as our State broadcaster should be the gold-standard service provider for the country ... There should be a hunger and excitement ... for promoting and nurturing talent instead of this old-fashioned attitude of: ‘Well, you should be grateful we are giving you a small chance.’ Breadcrumbs aren’t enough when the streamers and other channels are offering all-you-can-eat buffets.

Hidden Assets and Kin writer-creator Peter McKenna. Photograph: Alan Betson

Peter McKenna, writer-creator of Hidden Assets and Kin

Is RTÉ important to you?

For drama, RTÉ is really, really important ... It’s important for us as a nation that our stories are told, and our stories are different than the stories being told in England and America. TV writers ... need to be given opportunities or they just move away.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

I think they do news and current affairs well, and sports when they have the chance ... What I think they don’t do well, truthfully, is they don’t really change as an organisation and adapt to the changing landscape around them.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

The licence fee feels slightly old fashioned. Certainly, with subscriptions to Netflix people begin to question it, and it’s become a stick to beat RTÉ with ... I think it would be better if it was funded out of the exchequer.

What’s your favourite RTÉ broadcast?

It was probably Italia 90 ... It all felt like a communal experience. The way young people now consume media is almost the exact opposite. They do in pods of isolation ... It feels sometimes the model RTÉ are promoting is slightly out of sync with the way we live now. Not to be harsh on them, because I don’t have a solution ... It’s not like I’m sitting here going: ‘If only they did this, everything will be fine.’ I have no idea what they should do but I fear for them.

Journalist and broadcaster Vincent Browne. Photograph: Cyril Byrne (Cyril Byrne)

Vincent Browne, journalist and broadcaster

Is RTÉ important to you?

It’s important to me because I rely on it to get the news of the day ... And Limerick’s doing well in hurling and RTÉ is broadcasting some of those matches, sharing with Sky, which I think is a pity.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

I was very impressed by the Tommy Tiernan interviews, less impressed when I heard each item was recorded for [longer] and then edited back ... But it’s still impressive. Prime Time can be good but often it’s dull. The news is fairly good, but there’s a terrible bias in the media generally ... A fairly large number of people in our society live in relatively poor circumstances ... I think the coverage of politics is very little to do with the welfare of people and much more to do with the reputations of individual ministers ... What matters is the welfare of people.

How do you think public-service broadcasting should be funded?

When I was with TV3, I resented the fact that RTÉ was getting this massive subsidy. I think there is an unfairness in that. There’s been an arrogance about it that they’re the only people who provide public-service broadcasting ... Which is just rubbish. I think there should be a public-service subsidy to media doing current affairs ... How that could work without the State interfering, I suppose, is another matter.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

More backbone in current affairs and investigations. They’re usually taking on people of straw, hardly ever profitable institutions or individuals ... RTÉ have fretters and handlers and they get into a tizzy if anything is said that would cause trouble.

Kinzen chief executive Mark Little. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill (Dara Mac Donaill)

Mark Little, chief executive of Kinzen, broadcaster and member of the Future of Media Commission (speaking in a personal capacity)

Is RTÉ important to you?

In the 80s, Northern Ireland, Haughey, that whole transition from a culture dominated by the church ... when you saw people like Brian Farrell, there was something talismanic about the sense of trust you had.

Public-service broadcasting is vital to a functioning democracy ... If you don’t have a set of shared facts ... you’ve just no way of surviving something like Covid. And if your culture is being defined continually by Silicon Valley, you have no sense of the future.

What does RTÉ do well and what does it do badly?

What RTÉ does really well, I think, is reflect that national identity at critical moments [but] the challenge for RTÉ is not just around funding, it’s not even necessarily around whether it’s got a good player or good technology, it’s whether it can meet a generation whose first touch of media is to swipe the phone in the morning.

How should public-service broadcasting be funded?

My personal view is that if public-service broadcasting is a public utility, like education, defence and health, that points you to a direct form of funding [from the exchequer]. The idea that you charge a 25-year-old a licence fee or some sort of poll tax or household charge given the way they consume media just does not make sense ... Focusing just on how RTÉ is funded is myopic, because it’s got to start on a more fundamental level: how do we protect and fund publicly accessible, shared facts and culture?

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

A nation of talkers should be investing heavily in podcasting ... Create a studio in every town in Ireland ... The definition of success might not be a breakthrough star, it just may be having 1,000 people who subscribe to a podcast as a seriously good service that meets their needs ... The future of media is not the amount of eyeballs you reach on first pass but the depth of connection you make with an audience.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Dee Forbes, director-general of RTÉ

What are the challenges for RTÉ right now?

[Covid] made one thing very, very clear: that the need for public service broadcasting is there. The public want it. They want more of it, actually, and they want to make sure we’re independent in everything we do ... [But] the system that was there to underpin the public side of it has not been looked at for many, many years, yet the demands on us get greater.

Do you think people would pay more?

We’re not asking for an increase in the licence fee ... The method that was decided many years ago, by government, to fund public service, it’s not fit for purpose. The licence fee has not been collected to the level it should be. The very notion of a TV licence fee is out of sync with the way people are now consuming media ... If you don’t have a TV, you don’t pay a licence. We’re not saying the public must pay more, what we’re saying is: those that should pay should be paying.

What extra demands are on RTÉ that weren’t there in the past?

[Netflix] has a method of delivery that is: you make it once and deliver it to many [via streaming]. We on the other hand, have a broadcast infrastructure that has been around over 60 years ... So it’s not as if we can simply turn off the old infrastructure and put all our energy and time into the new, we have to keep both very much alive ... We’re keeping the linear infrastructure strong and vibrant, while also ensuring that we are able to deliver to other individuals who want it on demand.

A lot of people complain about the player

I talked a little about the two horses we’re straddling here. And we’ve all got used to the streamers working incredibly well. Have we more work to do here? Yes, we have. And we’re doing everything we can to ensure the experience is as good as possible. We have seen phenomenal growth on the player, 35 per cent growth in 2020 during the pandemic ... We have to provide live as well as on demand ... We don’t have the resources of Disney or Netflix ... I do think we punch pretty hard in the space but recognise we’ve got to do more.

People also have issues with the high salaries some are paid.

Over the last number of years, the top 10 earners are earning almost 40 per cent less than they were in 2008 ... It’s less than 1 per cent of our total spend. And these people are bringing in commercial revenue and fulfilling a public service [remit] ... What they do and what they bring, not just on the screens, but out and about and being part of the fabric is important ... I understand why people feel that way [about the salaries], but the numbers have reduced and it’s something we have to keep an eye on.

If you could change one thing about RTÉ what would it be?

We are changing a lot of things on an ongoing basis ... This morning I met with a couple of students who have just graduated from Limerick. They are in the documentary space, fantastic ideas. They’ve done this through college, and now they want to go into the industry. We have to ensure that we have an open-door policy for people like this. We need to ... give them a platform, work with them to develop their craft and ensure that we can showcase Irish talent.

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