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News that TV3 is seeking a round of voluntary redundancies is another sign of the turmoil in the world of television. The news is a body blow to the independent station, just when it has completed its big new HD studio, and is commissioning home grown drama.

The news comes as TV3 lost its bridgehead GAA coverage to the lucrative pay for view Sky sports channel. RTE also lost out but on an even large scale, a fact that caused the national broadcaster to have a bit of an over-reaction but then such are the fraught feelings in the increasingly competitive world of television. Such was the highly critical coverage that the GAA president felt compelled to complain. But is an understandable reaction – RTE’s their Crown Jewels have been sold to Rupert Murdoch, and this by our supposedly patriotic national organisation.

But this is the reality of modern commerce. It is dog eat dog in TV land now. There have been lot of recent discussion about the changes in media, but the real crisis is in television. Viewers have no loyalty anymore and have a huge range of channels to pick from – not to mention people going on Netflix, and other sites. And, crucially they can watch TV on their internet, tablets or phones – and, if they wish, can broadcast the same way. Technically, there’s nothing to stop any of us from creating a TV station in our house and broadcasting it. The old model is broken. This is very tough for TV3, who have worked hard to create as a second commercial channel, but with all of these changes, the tides have turned.

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What drove TV3’s numbers was the soaps and big imported shows, many of which they have lost to UTV (who, in another blow to TV3, are also coming into southern Ireland as another channel!). News and current affairs are secondary in TV3, although Vincent Browne’s show is a low-cost production which fills a nightly gap in the market. But the really significant figure is this – Sky alone (by which, is meant all the Sky channels) suck about 300 m in TV ad revenue out of Ireland every year. In this situation RTE is much better off – Irish people like familiar Irish things and Montrose can still pull big numbers with home produced shows, sports and familiar personalities. And they still have the Government licence fee – fact that understandably enrages TV3.

In fact, RTE may actually get more public funding in the near future to make up for their continuing financial shortfalls, according to Minister Pat Rabbitte. This will annoy many in the commercial media who feel that RTE already has an unfair advantage with both licence fee and advertising revenue. But the Government believes that RTE still has a public service function that is not catered to by the broader media.

But just how valid is this ‘public service’ remit of RTE anymore? It might exist for

certain documentary projects and late night radio drama, but it is a shrinking function, from another era. The loss of GAA coverage is a classic example of that. And in terms of RTE’s current affairs and debate, there is now as equal a service from Newstalk, Today FM and TV3.

One has sympathy for RTE. In marked contrast to other commercial State companies, it has imposed major rounds of pay cuts and voluntary job losses. But one still wonders at the priorities of how it spends its money. The high salaries for certain RTE presenters have now been considerably cut, but there are still over 50 people in Montrose on over 100,000 euro PA. How does one justify so many such salaries in a loss-making public body?. Other spending cuts are puzzling. The restaurant drama ‘Raw’ was cancelled because drama costs are high, and yet ratings for the show were very high

But so precarious have things become in TV land, that despite all its cuts, RTE is still making losses. Ireland has the misfortune (or fortune for the viewer) of having to compete against the huge amount of English language broadcasting from elsewhere. All of this really hurts RTE but also TV3. But, whereas TV3 has to get on with it, RTE expect a leg-up from the State. Some say RTE should just embrace the open market of competition and whatever the market wants. Or that it should do the very opposite, retain its ‘public service quality’ and go for a pure licence-fee model, like the BBC.  At present, it is having it both ways. But the GAA defection’s to Sky shows us the reality of the modern global TV market, as TV3 will testify.

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