Sky and Virgin Media Ireland have said they will not pay to be allowed to carry RTÉ channels even at the risk of losing those channels from their platforms.
A number of pay-TV operators have outlined their strong objections to the joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications which is examining the introduction of retransmission fees.
RTÉ is currently looking for the removal of legislation that states that Irish free- to-air broadcasters “must offer” their standard definition channels to pay-TV operators free of charge. It argues that, as its channels are the most popular on the pay-TV platforms here, they should be allowed to charge for their use.
However, group director of policy and public affairs at Sky David Wheeldon told the committee that RTÉ was asking for the right to restrict the availability of its publicly funded channels and to, in effect, charge consumers.
“We are of the view that allowing it to do this would negatively affect all parties, including, most importantly, Irish citizens accessing programmes they have already paid for via a licence fee.”
“So for the avoidance of doubt, Sky would not pay RTÉ for its public service channels should RTÉ no longer be obliged to provide them for free. Of course, in such scenario RTÉ might decide voluntarily to withdraw from the main TV platform in over 40% of Irish homes in which case there can only be losers,” he said
Mr Wheeldon said that Sky contributes hundreds of millions to the Irish exchequer in terms of corporation tax, Vat and employer PRSI as well as giving RTÉ prominence on its electronic programme guide, allowing it to derive the highest viewing figures and generate millions in advertising income.
“We estimate that around €32m of RTÉ’s advertising income is derived from viewing on the Sky platform. Beyond this, our current commercial agreement with RTÉ means we provide specific financial contributions and benefits in kind to RTÉ, in return for certain services,” he said.
Virgin Media Ireland chief executive Tony Hanway RTÉ said “a harsh light” needed to be shone on why RTÉ was pushing so hard for retransmission fees.
“Unfortunately, the answer lies in the fact that RTÉ mistakenly believes that this will produce a large financial windfall that can solve its budgetary challenges whilst avoiding hard decisions that would otherwise be required to manage its costs. We believe it is not in the interests of the public to throw money at the problem so as to shield RTÉ from these financial realities,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved