RTÉ must invest more in digital services to compete, warns new chairwoman

RTÉ must respond to the “steep” competition posed by “global giants with deep pockets” and become a “new RTÉ” for the digital age, the public service broadcaster’s chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh will tell an Oireachtas committee tomorrow.

“Technological change, while necessary, is often expensive,” she will warn at the hearing, at which she will stress the need to prioritise “increased investment” in digital services and also restate RTÉ’s calls for Government action on reform of the licence fee.

“The current liability for TV licence fee does not reflect how media is consumed and a Government decision and plan on its reform must be enacted swiftly to ensure public service media is to survive and thrive,” she will say, according to a copy of her opening statement seen by The Irish Times.

“There are significant strategic choices ahead as we continue to consider how to better serve audiences, within financial constraints.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh – the former TG4 chairwoman and former chief executive of Ardmore Studios and Troy Studios – will also point to the need for a recalibration of RTÉ’s commercial strategy to align with digital media consumption trends.

“Ireland’s population is too small to sustain public service media by licence fee alone, so it is important that RTÉ continue to be as resourceful and creative as possible in generating income to deliver against its comprehensive remit.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh will note the investment made by the deep-pocketed international media companies in “compelling content” targeting Irish audiences and highlight their pursuit of “lucrative sports rights”.

While TV viewing faces “steep competition” from streaming services in a more fragmented media landscape, the board was “gratified” that 44 of the top 50 programmes on Irish television in 2022 were produced or commissioned by RTÉ, she will say.

This list was dominated by live sport, with nine of the top 10 most-watched programmes last year generated by GAA, soccer and rugby rights. RTÉ broadcast seven of the nine as well as the first-placed programme on the list, The Late Late Toy Show.

But linear television viewing as a whole is under pressure from the rise of “no TV” households, which are currently not liable to pay the licence fee, while listening habits are also “changing fast” with the growing popularity of podcasts, Ms Ní Raghallaigh will say.

“There are challenging times ahead, but it is also a significant moment of opportunity, for the reimagining of a new RTÉ.”

The session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, which is chaired by Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth, marks Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s first outing as RTÉ chairwoman since being appointed to the position last November.

It comes the day after RTÉ confirmed the appointment of Kevin Bakhurst as director general.

Mr Bakhurst, the former managing director of news and current affairs and deputy director general, was the preferred candidate of the selection panel, which included Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

The RTÉ chair said on Tuesday that Mr Bakhurst had been the “unanimous choice” of the board. This follows earlier reports that the board held a “pretty fraught” and “not pleasant” meeting on Good Friday about aspects of the selection process.

Members of the committee are nevertheless expected to ask Ms Ní Raghallaigh about leaks that emerged from the board in advance of Mr Bakhurst’s appointment amid concerns about confidentiality.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh will also tell the committee she looks forward to “deepening our relationship with the independent production sector”, which she will describe as RTÉ’s primary content partner. In 2022, RTÉ spent more than €43 million on commissions from independent producers.

On the subject of misinformation, she will caution that there is “no room for complacency” when it comes to the importance of maintaining a trusted, independent and impartial national news service.

On Irish language broadcasting, she will say RTÉ, alongside TG4, makes “a valuable contribution to the promotion and usage of our national language”.

“With the increasing reach of international streaming services, Ireland faces a real risk of cultural dilution – national storytelling, in all its forms, is hugely important.”