Operating deficit prompts call for reform of RTÉ funding

RTÉ has returned an operating deficit for the fourth year in a row, according to its annual accounts, prompting senior figures at the broadcaster to renew their appeal for a reform of its funding.

Operating deficit prompts call for reform of RTÉ funding

RTÉ has returned an operating deficit for the fourth year in a row, according to its annual accounts, prompting senior figures at the broadcaster to renew their appeal for a reform of its funding.

While earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were up €6.5m last year compared to €3.1m in 2017, the cost of special events in 2018, including the Papal Visit, Presidential Election and coverage of the FIFA World Cup amounted to €7.2m.

This, combined with depreciation, tax and other charges, resulted in an overall net deficit for 2018 of €13m.

RTÉ received €189.1m from the television licence fee last year and made €150m from commercial revenue.

Operating costs were €339.8m - nearly €100m less than the €439m recorded at its peak a decade earlier.

By the end of 2018, RTÉ’s full-time equivalent staffing level was at 1,691 - down 8% compared to the end of 2016.

The report said roughly 160 staff left RTÉ under a voluntary exit programme launched in 2017.

Director General Dee Forbes warned that the commercial environment is highly competitive and uncertain, and that “an unreformed TV Licence system” is losing tens of millions of euro every year.

This, she said “means that RTÉ cannot sustain the breadth of its public-service responsibilities”.

“With reduced levels in overall income (some €100m less than a decade ago), RTÉ’s ability to invest in its programming and services has decreased at a time when the competition for audiences, from largely international players who invest little in Irish programming or journalism, has never been more acute.

“The dual funding system, which has underpinned RTÉ’s remit and helped sustain the broader creative audio-visual sector in Ireland over many years, is now under impossible strain. This is unsustainable,” she said.

RTÉ Chair Moya Doherty said the overall financial situation “remains worrying”.

“The Board has pushed public awareness of the challenges that face RTÉ and indeed other parts of the creative industries. These challenges are exacerbated by the imminence of Brexit,” Ms Doherty said.

“Even before it happens, the uncertainty generated by the political situation in Britain has had a significant impact on RTÉ’s finances. In 2019, we will experience another tough year for the media sector – even in the most benign of Brexit scenarios.”

RTÉ had 39 of the top 50 most-watched television programmes in 2018, including eight of the top 10.

Virgin Media’s coverage of Ireland’s Six Nations clashes between England and Scotland were the second and ninth most watched respectively.

The Late Late Toy Show maintained its place at the top of the chart, while Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks in rugby was the third most-watched followed by the Croatia-England World Cup semi-final.

At fifth, the episode of ‘Room To Improve’ featuring Daniel and Majella O’Donnell drew more viewers than both the All-Ireland Hurling and Football Finals (sixth and seventh respectively).

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