RTÉ Struggles with Light Entertainment

The Irish Independent (‘Let’s hope TV3’s ratings success forces RTÉ to step up its game’ – 12th November 2009) reports that RTÉ2’s light entertainment shows have been suffering in the ratings war as The Republic of Telly had an audience of 113,000 and Karl Spain Wants to Rock with 67,000 viewers last week.

The same week, 333,000 viewers on RTÉ1 watched Pat Kenny being lambasted by a member of the audience on Frontline, now a Youtube hit. TV3 enjoyed success with The Apprentice and The Apprentice – Your Fired netting a 493,000 and 297,000 audience respectively. Interestingly in the latter programme the fired contestant, Ruth, failed to show up.

I agree with John Boland, when he states that some of the home entertainment shows ‘have been wretched’.  It seems a half-hearted attempt by the national broadcaster spending the licence payer’s money on shows that don’t attract ‘the younger audience they so desperately crave’. RTÉ2 is out of touch with its chosen demographic.  If a show on an American network received a rating of 67,000 viewers it would be quickly dumped. 

That said TV3 seem intent on tried formulas taken in from abroad as Deal or No Deal hosted by the magician Keith Barry starts tonight, although it has upped its home-produced shows such as Tonight with Vincent Price and Midweek. Hopefully, TV3’s new two-part crime drama series The Guards will help TV3 improve its success when it comes to air in February 2010.

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Decrease in Independent TV Production in Ireland

RTÉ’s €68 million shortfall may represent bad news also for independent productions as TV bosses cut budgets. RTÉ however suggest that business is still open, but the 2007 spend of €79.5 million is unlikely to be repeated.

Ben Frow of TV3 admits he can’t afford independent TV unless it wins funding from the Broadcasting Commission Sound and Vision Fund, of which 3 of 26 got funding. A one-hour drama costs the station €150,000, but could get 40 hours of in-house production for the same amount. Consequently, Frow stated he was not going to back new ideas in the next round in July although projects will be re-submitted.

Michael O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, stated that funds were limited but hoped that ‘the pot would be bigger next year, but we’re still going to be turning a lot of people down’.

There were as many as 200 independent production companies three years ago, but estimates that there are as many as 170, The Irish Independent (11th June 2009) reports. These figures seem to be taken directly from the Screen Producers of Ireland website (SPI), the lobbyists for Independent Production companies in Ireland. This figure does not account for the many which are not fee paying members of the SPI. Although Sean Stokes, head of the SPI, confirmed that recession reticence is typical as ‘bigger businesses have let go of 50% of staff’ and that some are ‘pooling resources’.

Sideline’s Billy McGrath of The Model Agent fame is however upbeat as a ‘second revenue stream are online DVD sales outlet’, confirming that one revenue stream could lead independent producers to trouble.

Screentime ShinAwiL’s Larry Bass lost You’re a Star before the recession, but has concentrated his efforts on Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. His company did not get funding from the Broadcasting Commission, but has attracted corporate sponsorship for Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. Wider use of sponsorship is inevitable and independent producers have to find ways to give ‘better value’ to broadcasters.

At the end of the chain are screenwriters who will need to be more inventive, take these considerations on board to try to keep independent production companies interested but there is the danger that screenwriters may be forced abroad.