All the main Irish television channels have recently launched their autumn schedules and in January 2015 a new player UTV Ireland took to the airwaves. Perhaps this is an opportune moment to look at the state of the Irish Television market.
After its first week on air, what did we discover about UTV Ireland and how it would impact on Irish TV? There contribution to new programming has been exclusively its news output, 90 minutes per day (6.30pm x 30minutes, 10pm x 60minutes). This is familiar ground as Sky News Ireland, which aired from May 2004 to November 2006, simply broadcast a zone specific opt out news broadcast and rebranded themselves as Sky News Ireland. UTV Ireland’s content is based on ITV’s network output but differs from its Northern Ireland sister station by airing old repeats such as Surprise Surprise. The station’s news output was their only contribution with the exception of Pat Kenny’s first night broadcast to Ireland and even this was limited to Monday to Friday. Even the viewing figures for the experienced ex RTE broadcaster was poor with a ratings average of 73,000 tuning in. There was no news content was available on Saturday (Jan 10th 2015) despite the fact that their Northern Ireland station broadcast a number of UTV Live news bulletins during the day.
But even their news bulletins are struggling in the ratings war. Ratings released for the period January 1st-15th 2015 show that TV3’s early evening bulletin averages 183,000 viewers while UTV Ireland’s early evening bulletin averages just over 31,000. RTE’s Six One news was averaging over half a million viewers for the same period.
The dominant player in the Irish TV market remains RTE Television with their two main channels One & Two and their additional digital package that includes tRTE, RTE News Now and their +1 channels. The station is funded through a combination of statutory licence fee paid by the viewer and advertising. In second place in the ratings war is TV3, now in its sixteenth year on air and owned by the British private equity company Doughty Hanson & Co. TV3 also operates their sister channel 3e which they purchased as Channel 6 in 2009. TV3 in anticipation of the arrival of UTV Ireland launched a TV3+1 channel.
The indigenous Irish Language service TG4 continues to impress viewers with their limited financial resources. Now the latest channel to tempt the viewers and aiming to attract what is no longer a slice but a sliver of the advertising revenue pie is UTV Ireland. This however will impact on the Northern Ireland channel as advetisers from the twenty six counties who advertised with UTV now move to UTV Ireland.
UTV Ireland is a sister station to UTV (founded as Ulster Television in 1958) and a constituent company of UTV Media PLC. The company is owned by a group of small shareholders and loan & financial management firms.
According to Nielsen rating most viewers still watch traditional television on tradition TV sets but the way we watch and what we watch is changing by the month. We can watch TV on multiple devices from computer, to lap top to the mobile phone. In Ireland initially cable, then satellite and now digital age has brought in a large overspill of UK channels into the twenty six counties. UK channels such as Channel 4, MTV and Sky use out opt facilities on their channels to air dedicated Irish advertising.
New players on the market such as Netflix and Amazon have demonstrated new ways for viewers to watch their favourite programmes and have begun produces series of their own. Viewers can also log into illegal sites to watch the latest episodes of their favourite shows weeks before they are aired on terrestrial TV, reducing audience figures and therefore the reach for advertisers.
Further choice can be found on the Sky Platform with Irish TV aimed both at a domestic and a growing global Irish audience. An Lar TV is a internet based channel who like Irish TV is aimed at a global diaspora but eating into an audience that advertisers would be delighted to share.
One of the most asked questions about the arrival of UTV Ireland is why? The most obvious answer is that UTV believe that there is a viewing market share available and that viewing figure translates into revenue. But perhaps the question being asked is ‘how?’ How is a channel broadcasting to a franchise area of six of Ireland’s thirty two counties able to afford to launch in the south. RTE for many decades until the late nineteen eighties in both radio and television enjoyed a monopoly but yet despite a licence fee, advertising and government subvention the station continued to make a loss, due in large to high staffing levels and high salaries. UTV broadcasting as an ITV franchise area to the six counties of Northern Ireland now operates successfully and profitably sixteen radio stations in the UK including the national TalkSport Radio, the world’s most successful sports radio station, five radio stations in the Republic of Ireland including FM104, the market leader in Dublin, a TV channel from January 2015 now an all Ireland channel. How can a small station like UTV outgrow RTE and threaten RTE’s status in the television market in Ireland. UTV have only being expanding since 2004, until then they had concentrated on their franchise remit from ITV. The contrast between UTV and RTE is stark with the national broadcasters deflecting the threat of the new channel pointing out that UTV Ireland will be a bigger threat to TV3 than RTE.
But as all economists point out the figures never lie. A comparison of the end of year figures (2013) for the main Irish TV stations can lead the way.
Revenue €182.4m € 135.0m(*excluding RTE’s €145.2m generated from the licence fee.)
Operating Costs € 306.9m € 110.2m
Staff Costs € 132m € 41.4m
No. of Employees 1,856 1,012 (*Includes all Divisions)
Figures for the other two main channels TG4 and TV3 are a little harder to show but in 2012
Revenue € 57.6 € 3m (+ € 32.7m in Government Subvension)
No of Employees 260 84
(The TV 3 total includes 3e)
What has prevented RTE being UTV? They have had the opportunities over the decades. UTV currently own and operat e the world’s largest sports radio station TalkSport but in the 1990’s RTE were involved with Radio Luxembourg in the Atlantic 252 venture before that station metamorphosed into TeamTalk 252, a sports radio station but the station failed when out gunned and muscles by TalkSport.
RTE have had a monopoly on the radio airwaves for decades and prior to the launch of independent commercial radio in 1989 put forward the case to operated regional local radio. This sector eventually went into the commercial arena. With the advent of the digital age RTE Radio did expand with channels such as RTE Pulse and Gold but their two main broadcast channels RTE One and 2FM have haemorrhaged listeners to local commercial radio in both urban and rural areas.
Allied to the loss of listeners has been the loss of advertising revenue although RTE’s financial stability is aided by the use of their finances from the licence fee.
UTV have seen an opportunity in the Irish radio market by purchasing FM104, the Dublin market leader. This position as market leader in the main catchment area, the capital city is augmented by Q102 also in Dublin aimed at the older demographic, 95FM in Limerick, 96FM and 103FM in Cork and LMFM in County Louth.
RTE’s ability to move apace with other stations had been hampered by large salaries and high operating costs. Some of these costs have been reduced with new contract agreements, staff departures and reduced running costs such as the closure of the medium wave transmitters. RTE’s statutory obligations as the state broadcaster, has tied one hand behind its back. The freedom that other broadcasters have is denied to RTE. The station has attempted to fulfil its obligations of being all things to everyone and to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln ‘you can keep some of the viewers happy some of the time but you cannot keep all of the viewers happy all of the time’.
With an increased number of channels available to the Irish viewer, how much local originated content is broadcast. On January 7th 2015 from 6pm – Midnight, a total of 360 minutes of airtime the Irish content was as follows,
RTE One – 325 Minutes (A total of 90 Minutes were produced live consisting of the main news bulletins) RTE 2 - 120 Minutes (No Live and no News) TV 3 - 330 Minutes (60 Minutes Live with the Vincent Brown Show) 3e - 0 TG 4 - 300 Minutes (30 minutes News (Nuacht) live) UTV Ireland - 90 Minutes (90 Minutes news bulletins) Irish TV - 360 Minutes (No Live Programming) Setanta Sports - 210 Minutes (30 Minutes Live simulcast with Newstalk Radio) An Lar TV - 360 Minutes (No Live Programming) DCTV - 360 Minutes (No Live Programmes – All Repeats) CCTV - 240 Minutes (No Live Programming)
(DCTV - Dublin Community Television CCTV - Cork Community Television)
The top performing TAM rated programmes for January 7th were
Fair City 463,000 (Irish Soap) Nationwide 349,000 (Irish Factual) Operation Transformation 347,000 (Irish Factual)
Padraig Nally 104,000 (Irish Factual) Home & Away 99,000 (Australian Soap) Neighbours 65,000 (Australian Soap)
Red Rock 225,000 (Irish Soap) Restaurant 145,000 (Irish Factual) Vincent Browne 122,000 (Irish Current Affairs) Ant & Dec 110,000 (ITV Repeat) Vincent Browne special 108,000 (Irish Current Affairs) Xpose 102,000 (Irish Factual)
Coronation street 249,000 (ITV Soap) Emmerdale 241,000 (ITV Soap) Surprise Surprise 72,000 (ITV Repeat)
In 2014 Irish viewers watched on average over three hours of TV per day. RTE TV dominates the rating battle with nineteen of the top twenty TAM rated programmes in 2014 been produced by RTE. TV3’s ITV made Coronation Street was the only programme breaking into the Top Twenty. The arrival of UTV Ireland has put that one position in jeopardy as Coronation Street is aired exclusively on UTV Ireland instead of TV3 from January 2015. TV3 have attempted to limited the impact of loosing this advertising market leader to UTV Ireland by producing their own soap Red Rock which began in January 2015.
Top Twenty TV as revealed by Tam Ireland (Nielsen Ratings)
2014 201310 RTE News (Mar 2nd) RTE News (Mar 16th) 9 Mrs Brown Boys The Voice of Ireland 8 GAA Hurling Final RTE News (Jan 20) 7 GAA Football Final The Eurovision 6 Mrs Browns Boys All Ireland Hurling Final 5 World Cup Final Mrs Browns Boys 4 Amber (Finale) Mrs Browns Boys 3 6 Nations Rugby (Ire v Fra) All Ireland Football Final 2 Love Hate Finale (1.150m) Love Hate Finale (1.117m) 1 Late Late Toy Show (1.594m) Late Late Toy Show (1.54m) Top Ten Advertisers in 2014 1. Proctor & Gamble 2. BskyB 3. Unilever 4. Diageo (Guinness) 5. Reckitt Benckiser 6. Lidl Ireland 7. Loreal 8. Aldi Ltd 9. UPC 10. McDonalds