It’s an Irish ‘cultural phenomenon’ – but Irish TV can’t afford to show it yet

No joke: the BBC has begun publicising the next series of The Young Offenders, but RTÉ has deferred its showing of the comedy until 2025

The BBC’s recent unveiling of “first look images” from the “upcoming” series of The Young Offenders was one of those quiet thuds for Irish broadcasting that pass by unnoticed, certainly to the politicians who have the health of Irish television in their hands.

No transmission date was confirmed, but this fourth run is “coming soon to BBC One and iPlayer”, according to the BBC, which went on to hail The Young Offenders as “a cultural phenomenon” that has captured the hearts of audiences worldwide.

I’m happy for audiences worldwide. But what about audiences at home?

The Cork-set series – commissioned by the BBC “in association with” RTÉ – is a triumph of Irish comedy. It is made by Irish production company Vico Films, features a festival of Irish acting talent and was created by Vico’s Peter Foott, the writer-director of the original 2016 film.


It’s great that the BBC wants to be its lead funder. What is not great is that, thanks to the parlous state of RTÉ's finances, it won’t be airing here until next year.

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but the cost of a programme is recorded in broadcasters’ accounts in the period in which it is transmitted, not when the money is spent. This means that as soon as RTÉ became obliged to cut costs by €10 million in 2024 alone, one of the ways it looked to save money was through deferrals.

“The transmission of The Young Offenders will be delayed until 2025,” read one of its cost-cutting bullet points, which I think we can agree is less effusive that the BBC’s announcement of “beloved characters returning for more hilarious and heart-warming adventures” in this “massive draw” of a show.

This practice of delaying, for accounting purposes, the broadcast of already-made shows is not new to the television industry, nor to RTÉ.

We never did find out what happened to Amber, the girl who went missing in the RTÉ drama of a decade ago. No Oireachtas committee could ascertain where she went. What we do know is that the ambiguously ended mystery was earmarked for broadcast in 2012, but RTÉ's deficit ballooned that year as advertising revenues plunged and it paid for one of its voluntary redundancy schemes. Amber went into limbo.

Dropped from the 2012 autumn schedule, its non-appearance in 2013 helped RTÉ achieve a rare surplus that year. It finally surfaced on RTÉ One in 2014, only after it had been distributed and shown in several overseas countries.

Here we are again, only this time it seems The Young Offenders will have the distinction of being accessible to much of the Irish audience in the interim via its broadcast on BBC One.

Sometimes, amid the glut of content available to audiences, spacing out commissions is the logical move. Virgin Media Television, which shared costly rights to the Rugby World Cup with RTÉ last year, was not exactly rushing in 2023 to squeeze in either Baz Ashmawy’s dramedy Faithless or The Vanishing Triangle, an Irish crime drama starring India Mullen and Allen Leech that premiered on US platforms Sundance Now and AMC+ in October.

This was to “give them the love and attention they need”, Virgin said. That love and attention will soon be coming the way of Faithless, with the six-part series due to be broadcast on Virgin Media One and Virgin Media Player later this month.

Arguably, RTÉ would have been better off waiting to transmit the first run of another Ashmawy project, The Money List, until this year, too, rather than exposing its initial episodes to the ratings Kryptonite of a scheduling clash with the Rugby World Cup. As it is, a second series of the quiz has been filmed with an unconfirmed transmission date, but the production of a third was deferred as part of the 2024 cuts.

The subdued market backdrop lends urgency to one element of RTÉ's five-year plan, which is to ‘prioritise digital advertising as a critical growth area’

As far as the habit of phasing the release of in-the-can shows goes, however, the market leader right now is crisis-stricken Channel 4.

It may be marking St Valentine’s Day with the arrival of Alice & Jack – a romantic drama starring Domhnall Gleeson, Andrea Riseborough and Aisling Bea – but there’s not been much industry love for the British advertiser-funded public-service broadcaster of late. The production companies that supply it have had to contend with a raft of postponed launch dates as well as a commissioning slowdown.

The main prompter for this was a collapse in traditional UK television advertising in 2023, with Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon describing the estimated 14 per cent plummet as “market shock” territory.

The woes of the Irish television advertising market have not been as severe, but they are not non-existent either. Traditional TV advertising revenue fell 5.8 per cent to €244.2 million last year, estimates Core, and this will be another underwhelming year, with the marketing group forecasting a further decline of 3.9 per cent to €234.7 million.

The subdued market backdrop lends urgency to one element of RTÉ's five-year plan, which is to “prioritise digital advertising as a critical growth area”. In doing so, it will consciously mimic the strategy of “leading broadcasters in the UK, including Channel 4″, which has set a target for digital advertising to reach 30 per cent by 2025.

Channel 4 is on track to make that target, though perhaps not in the way it was hoping. While the broadcaster video-on-demand advertising market is going in the right direction here, RTÉ's digital revenues, as a share of its total commercial revenue, was still in single digits as of 2022, so it has a long way to go to emulate Channel 4 in this department.

No show postponement is as dramatic as what has been happening in Hollywood, where Warner Bros Discovery has written off unreleased projects for tax reasons in a move now known as “Batgirling”. But these unsettling times are full of repeats. The fragile broadcasting climate suggests that more television programmes will wind up left on the shelf.