Broadcasters challenged by evolving market

A dramatically changing media environment poses a series of linked challenges to all Irish broadcasters and for media policy in general.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said television in Ireland faced the immediate issue of a fast-changing market.

He pointed to audiences fragmenting and domestic broadcasters facing intense competition from overseas.

But he also warned that marked challenges will not be met if different sections of the media start cannibalising each other over the licence fee — rather than responding creatively to technological change.

“Already, the market for television advertising in Ireland is getting incredibly crowded,” he told a TV50 Conference at University College Cork.

“There are more than 30 channels of advertising available for sale in Ireland, with the majority of these originating from outside the State.”

Broadcasters, he said, were effectively competing with organisations possessed of larger economies of scale than any Irish company could ever hope to achieve.

“These organisations can spend far more on content, on advertising and on platforms than any indigenous broadcaster.

“Moreover, their established presence in all sections of the Irish television market, and their ability to specialise — be that in sports, children’s television, drama and current affairs — pose a longstanding challenge in terms of maintaining standards, both technical and editorial.

“In other words,” he said. “Irish broadcasters must compete with the very best the world has to offer, while still catering for the particular needs of the domestic market.”

Mr Rabbitte acknowledged the advertising market was getting increasingly fragmented across an expanding number of television channels and a rapidly growing online market.

He warned: “What is coming next may well be even more challenging though. We’ve seen stirrings of Internet Protocol Television, or IPTV, for many years — already there is a range of possible means by which such content can be delivered to a wide variety of devices.

“However, it appears the industry is approaching a singularity in terms of the business models available and that we’re likely to see relatively rapid developments over the medium term. If and when this does occur, the challenges facing Irish broadcasters will multiply.

“Technology like this tends to afford greater economies of scale to all, and those who therefore stand to gain the most are the largest companies.”

He said, television will persist as it is too powerful a communicator not to.

However, he cautioned: “It would be naive in the extreme for any of us to believe that in a country where everyone will have access to at least 30mb broadband, and with a universe of content available online, that even a DTT based broadcasting eco-system can remain unaffected.”

Side lines

* “If media is important and I believe that it is, we should be prepared to pay for it.”

— Minister Rabbitte, on proposed new household media charge. Evasion of TV licence amounted to €30m last year — an estimated 170,000 homes.

* RTÉ director general Noel Curran questioned whether the new broadcasting charge “could or should” coincide with a recalibration of how RTÉ is funded, adding that the public service broadcaster was open to a debate.

* TV3 chief executive David McRedmond: “RTÉ must be supported on planning ahead. And the commercial sector must be supported, too. We are both in serious crisis.”

* Julian Lee @Julian_Lee76 tweeted: “Is there a valid argument for the existence of such a highly funded public broadcaster?”

* TV3’s David McRedmond revealed the station went to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to seek permission for sponsorship of the Vincent Browne show on the grounds it was “more entertainment than journalism!” (Sponsorship of current affairs programmes is prohibited).

* 200,000 people watched the Rubberbandits’ comedy song Horse Outside originally broadcast on RTÉ television — but more than 9 million have viewed it on YouTube.

* RTÉ southern correspondent Pascal Sheehy: “We break news with authority” — contributing to a debate on ‘citizen’ reporting

* Peter Kelly, independent TV producer: “A lot of citizen journalists are activists, they are not interested in democracy, a lot have vested interests like NGOs pushing a particular line.”

* RTÉ political correspondent David McCullagh: “Media itself is the last unregulated bastion. Needs examination of itself.”

* Kevin Rafter, senior lecturer in UCD on political communications: “When the media gets it wrong there are pretty good regulatory systems in place.”

* Michael Lally, head of news RTÉ Nuacht and TG4: “I’ll settle for accuracy, truth is more difficult.”

* Tweeter: “Adults will need to know how to code! Or else they’ll be illiterate in a crucial 21st century language.”

* TV50 RTÉ Conference was organised by UCC’s School of History.

* Noel Curran said: “It is appropriate we are here at the request of the History Department rather than the communications or media departments.”

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