Uncertainty over the future of the TV licence fee means it is “impossible” for RTÉ to plan investments in technology and programming, the broadcaster will tell members of the Oireachtas Committee on Media on Wednesday.
Representatives of RTÉ, Virgin Media, TG4, Screen Ireland and the Community Television Association of Ireland are due before the committee’s TDs and Senators to discuss future business model plans and the long-term vision for the television and film sectors in the country.
The Government last year rejected a recommendation from the Future of Media Commission to abolish the licence fee from 2024 onwards and replace the income, key to RTÉ operations, with exchequer funding. Ministers instead agreed to overhaul how the charge is collected and establish a group to assess the licence system.
RTÉ will tell the committee that between 2010 and 2019 its total public-commercial funding mix averaged at 46 per cent commercial and 54 per cent public funding. Its opening statement says the commission’s report “is very clear on the need for substantial reform of the public funding system”.
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It says that reform is “both necessary and urgent”, that “only Government can fix the system”, and the current licence fee system “is losing in excess of €65 million per year and it’s continuing to get worse”.
TDs and Senators will be told: “RTÉ needs to make substantial investments in new technology, in new skills, and in new programming and new content formats.
“Many of these investments are multiannual in nature, but it is impossible for us to plan with so much uncertainty around over 50 per cent of our income.”
Meanwhile, a written submission to the committee from Virgin Media suggests that creating a single digital platform for Ireland’s public service media is “critically important”. The document says that viewers have never had more choice for video content and bundle offers from pay-TV companies.
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It outlines how more than 2.5 million Irish adults say they have access to one or more of the main subscription services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video. Virgin Media highlights how three French broadcasters “joined forces with the aim of creating a home-grown SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) challenger to US streaming services”.
Its submission suggests this model could work in Ireland. “The creation of a single digital platform to deliver indigenous public service media across all new platforms, and which is technically robust and aligned with future technological developments... is the only path forward.”
The director general of TG4, Alan Esslemont, is expected to address the committee in Irish. A translated version of his remarks circulated to the committee shows he will say that Unesco classifies the Irish language as “definitely endangered”.
He says the future of Irish depends on the Oireachtas and the State “placing the combating of ‘language shift’ and ‘language diversity action’ at the centre of its efforts”.
Mr Esslemont will raise concern that “TG4 still lags far behind other European minority language broadcasters in terms of funding and scale, such as S4C in Wales or EITB in the Basque Country.” He says S4C is the closest equivalent but its overall budget is twice that of TG4.