Station To Station


From top: Dee Forbes, Director general of RTÉ and Tony Hall, Director general of the BBC; Vanessa Foran

When RTÉ made their YE 201E available my quick scan had a predictable response; everything is as expected. Glossy, full of talk about themselves, the movements on the balance sheet to reflect the well-known sale of land, and of course Dee Forbes’ salary.

So rather than file it under a Broadsheet standard “nothing to see here” tag I decided to measure a few values against another national broadcaster reliant on statutory licence fees; the BBC.  One presents Financial Statements as Group, the Other as Consolidated. RTÉ have a Calendar Year End, the BBC have a March YE.

While scanning both I was indeed mindful to the size and reach of both organisations, alongside the licence fee income and the global reach of one, and the advertising income opportunities of the other.

Therefore, I only used total income over a full 12 month trading period as a denominator rather than split out, and convert into a single currency needed for a proper drill down. Which would be meaningless to a large degree anyway, as one would be including direct costs for special events ie. Brexit Referendum and both values are compiled from very mixed reporting periods.

So, in so far as a quick drive-by evaluation would allow, here some stats that might be considered as reasonable benchmarks within that industry.

Please also bear in mind, I have only picked off a few to run simple Ratio Analysis calculations against. The purpose of published accounts and reports of any organisation is to allow all stakeholders access themselves and form their own opinions, so here is what was interesting to me.

Some 95% of the BBC’s total expenses in the 12 months ending March 2017 was spent on Content and Delivery; in real terms, 5% is what comes out of their total income to run the organisation’s back office functions.

To put this in context; RTÉ reports a total Income of €337.6 million; of which €27.365m was spent on Acquired Programming; 8% if you are wondering. This does not include Sport Copyrights & Licences if you were wondering that too; 5.5% of total income by the way.

For those who might assume that Acquired Programming refers to content subbed in from local production companies and sub-contractors, let me also provide this figure – €38.62m for Direct Acquired Programme Costs; or 11.4% of total income.

Thankfully the RTÉ report provides an easily interpreted graphic to give you an idea of how many are employed by the Television dept:

An interesting question is how much of its overall programming hours are fulfilled by these Acquired Programming and Direct Acquired Programming expenditure items.

Meanwhile, to get a look at another suite of cost:total income tests here’s one of the old reliables; Executive & Board Renumeration.

Total Board costs as a % of Total Income: BBC .06% (.0006 of total Income) RTE .1% (.001). Dee Forbes’ 338k v Tony Hall’s 467K; one hundredth of RTÉ’s total income: one thousandth of the BBC’s.

That above should be digested alongside with this; Dee Forbes leads an organisation that in its last set of accounts reported €337.6 million income, of which 55% is Licence Fees, and employs (average WTE for year) 1,924 people.

Whereas Tony Hall is responsible for almost 21,000 employees (over 10 times more than Ms Forbes) and for an organisation that collects st£3.74billion from UK Licence payers and earns itself another st£1.2billion (again way over 10 times more than Ms Forbes.)

As a % of income and staff complement there is absolutely no arguing the value of money lapse just on this benchmark alone. But I would add that Tony Hall is probably being short-changed.

Yes, I know this is flame-throwing. But it is worth noting nonetheless that straight away the TV Licence Payers in the UK get significantly more out of their National Broadcaster than the Irish Licence Payer.

RTÉ is on a road to nowhere which only exposes the Irish Taxpayer to further financial risks. It needs to radically change every way it does business and at every level within the organisation. It continues to achieve cost cuts and they have the graphic to prove it:

But even this alongside the carving from the Land & Buildings on its balance sheet, they are only fooling themselves if they think realising cash here is all they need to do. The entity’s costs are still not under control when it is having to sell its silver rather than innovate.

Commissioning a new season of a series they have not already managed to sell on is pointless and not in any way strategic or wise programming; you can also read this as using tax payers’ money to invest further in a loss-making product.

They need to develop products they can export and they need to relocate from probably the most valuable real-estate in the country instead of this piecemeal selling off from Financial Year to Financial Year. But more importantly they need their own programming to win back their viewers.

The most watched show in YE 2017 was the Late Late Toy Show; which at least is their own format, albeit older than me, probably.  But its viewership is not loyal since the Toy Show is followed in the top 10 by a series of GAA All-Irelands and World Cup Play-Offs; all of which they have to compete for. Notably, the only scripted show in last year’s top ten was Mrs Brown/s New Year’s whatever. That probably makes my point.

If you are interested there is one measure between the two that is exactly spot on and nose to nose; both reports are a 192 pages long.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners. Follow Vanessa on Twitter: @vef_pip /a>. Vanessa will be on Broadsheet on the Telly tonight at 10pm.

Footnote: Vanessa writes: The BBC Management and Talent personnel don’t seem to suffer from the shyness their counterparts in RTE do when it comes to declaring their income. Here  is a tidy and well-presented transparent document detailing everyone employed or engaged by the BBC in Year Ending March 2017 in the 150K brackets.

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24 thoughts on “Station To Station

  1. The Old Boy

    Using a bar chart to make a 24% drop look like a third of the original figure: Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

  2. Jonickal

    The Dee Forbes vs Tony Hall comparison is a poor one. The BBC has the advantage of scale, RTE does not, nor will RTE ever be able to simply by virtue that Ireland has a population of less than 5m whereas the UK is 65m. You cannot apply a comparison of multiples to their salaries. A CEO of an organisation is always going to command a sizeable salary regardless of the size of the organisation.

  3. Cian

    they need to relocate from probably the most valuable real-estate in the country
    You would need to do a cost-benefit on this. They had 30 acres, and sold off 9 for €107m – so the remainder of the land is worth €250m – possibly less as the current buildings would need to be demolished by the developer; and what would happen the broadcasting tower?

    If they were to move they would need to buy a land and build their various TV/radio studios. There would be a cost to build these (especially the TV studios + storage rooms) – as these would need to be purpose built. There would be all the other costs of moving.

  4. TheQ47

    Who knew Richard Dawkins double-jobbed as a COO in the BBC earning between £150,000 to £200,000? (page 8 of the salaries report)

    1. Jonzo

      What more,

      Poor Auld Annie Mac slaving away on a friday night earns less than 150k.
      Shocking altogether!

  5. The Dude

    RTÉ are a truly remarkable organisation.

    For each episode of Eastenders, they pay the BBC €270,000, so as to relay it – despite the BBC providing it effectively free-of-charge simultaneously on other platforms. By contrast, RTÉ spend only €57,000 on making each episode of ‘Fair City’ – which, despite whatever is said about the quality, nonetheless partly fulfills their duties under the auspices of being a supposed ‘national broadcaster’.
    See here for more:

    Separately, the dominance of advertising purchasing by certain vested interests – such as the motor car sales sector – has led to the editorial stance of the organisation being openly questioned. For example, it is known that over the years various so-called ‘stars’ have been provided free-of-charge cars by manufacturers. Interesting to note the names associated includes Ryan Tubridy – who’s Renault sponsored Late Late Show last January had a call to ‘bin’ cyclists legally cycling two abreast, resulting in many complaints to the station. Or then there’s rugby pundit George Hook, who was provided with a car by Peugeot – and separately loves to berate cyclists en masse whenever he gets a chance. For more, see here;

    On a totally unrelated note, the following BBC documentary on Dr. Goebbels approach to propaganda during the Third Reich makes for very interesting viewing. Contrary to popular perception, Goebbels did not advocate overt propaganda – and indeed disliked ‘Triumph of the Will – but instead, emphasized light entertainment as the primary means to ensure a population would be kept in the dark / brainwashed.

    To my mind there is little worth in keeping in place such overpaid gate-keepers coasting along on an obsolete technology at great cost to taxpayers.

    It is long overdue that the Propaganda Tax be axed.

    1. rotide

      1. Eastenders. They don’t just offer to pay that amount of money from the goodness of their hearts. This is all worked out as to what they can afford and make back in advertising space. TV3 offered more and won Corrie because RTE were paying WAY under the odds for it. Have you similar figures for the spend per episode for Eastenders? No didn’t think so. You point is stupid.

      2. This is paranoid nonsense with no actual facts showing anything. Again, a stupid point.

      3. This is even more paranoid nonsense.

      1. The Dude

        Thanks for that rotide. This may be of interest to you for future reference;

        As to the data that is available re Eastenders, I have provided that which is publicly readily available. Perhaps you have more, if so please feel free to share? It could also be helpful if you could outline how broadcasting a foreign programme at great expense – that is simultaneously broadcast on other platforms free-of-charge – fulfills the role of a supposed ‘national broadcaster’? Last time I checked TV3 does not claim to be a ‘national broadcaster’, is not funded by a mandatory tax – and therefore is not an equivalent or fair comparison.

        But sure go ahead anyway – and perhaps without the ad-hominem attacks, you could just deal with the facts?

        Thanks! :-)

        1. Cian

          If RTE can buy Eastenders for €270,000, and sell €280,000 worth of ads – then they are making money.
          If Fair City costs €57,000 and they sell ads worth €65,000 – then they are also making money.

          Financially speaking (in this made-up example), Eastenders is ‘better’ than Fair City.

          NB I made up numbers for the ad revenue.

        2. Rob_G

          “that is simultaneously broadcast on other platforms free-of-charge”

          – does everyone have access to these other platforms? If people want to watch it, and RTÉ can make money selling ads off it, I don’t see the problem with them paying money to rebroadcast it.

          1. Martco

            regarding access…if you have a working satellite dish pointing at Astra 2E & 2F then yes everyone has access to the relevant Freeview channels

            RTÉ in strict commercial terms is a financial nonsense. RTE only makes any sense in the political argument (having a so called public broadcast service)

  6. rotide

    It’s always amusing when people try to compare BBC and RTE with a straight face. No matter how many times it’s pointed out how ridiculous the comparison is due to scale (and culture) people continue to think there’s a valid reason.

    I’ve seen really good comparisons with NZ stations which is probably a bit more worthwhile.

    On this point it’s interesting to note that when it comes to quality comparisons, you only ever hear BBC and american channels mentioned. No one ever ever ever compares (also much bigger) Italian and Spanish TV stations to RTE because they are absolutely dire and RTE compares very very favorably to them.

    1. Brother Barnabas

      if you want to get an idea of how good you are at something, it makes sense to compare yourself to the best – rather than to some random poohead next to you

      1. Cian

        if you want to get an idea of how good you are at something, it makes sense to compare yourself to the best within your cohort.

      2. Rob_G

        That’s like saying we need to increase the size of the Defence Forces tenfold because America’s is much bigger.

        1. Cian

          That’s like saying we need to increase the size of the Defence Forces by 136 time because America’s is much bigger.

  7. Clampers Outside!

    A few points…

    They need to develop products they can export –
    true, but RTE is 10 times smaller than the BBC and cannot take as many programming risks because the hit and miss rate, even for the BBC, is quite high.

    and they need to relocate from probably the most valuable real-estate in the country instead of this piecemeal selling off from Financial Year to Financial Year. –
    others have commented on that, I simply don’t see how selling the land will fix any programming product issues.

    But more importantly they need their own programming to win back their viewers. –
    RTE have a share of viewing that is admirable compared to national and / or commercial stations across Europe. There’s a UK / BBC comparison below.

    But, RTE’s first priority is to the home market, providing something Irish people want to watch. How does it compare in that regard to the BBC and how does the BBC perform in its’ home market?

    RTE TV regularly holds at least half the top 20 programmes viewed, weekly, monthly or annually. Can be found on

    UK’s Top 2017 programmes across all viewing channels:
    10.Strictly Come Dancing – BBC1, 4 November, 11.96 million
    9. Strictly Come Dancing – BBC1, 18 November, 12.05 million
    8. Strictly Come Dancing – BBC1, 28 October, 12.28 million
    7. Blue Planet II (episode 5) – BBC1, 26 November, 12.62 million
    6. I’m a Celebrity… (launch) ITV, 19 November, 12.69 million
    5. Strictly Come Dancing (final) – BBC1 16 December, 13.01 million
    4. Blue Planet II (episode 4) – BBC1, 19 November, 13.11 million
    3. Blue Planet II (episode 3) – BBC1, 12 November, 13.45 million
    2. Blue Planet II (episode 2) – BBC1, 5 November, 13.97 million
    1. Blue Planet II (episode 1) – BBC1, 29 October, 14.01 million
    BBC holds 7 of the top 10 spots for individual programming. RTE performs similarly here in Ireland.

    How does the UK’s top programme perform compared to Ireland’s top programme?
    14.01 million total viewers for Blue Planet from a TV population of 60.2 million, a 23% viewership.
    1.3 million total viewers for The Late Late Toy Show from a TV population of 4.3m, a 30% viewership.
    (Please note: viewing given here are for the live and +1 / HD broadcasts, which make up what is considered ‘live / on the day’ viewing. Neither figures take account of PVR/Players. The Late Late Toy Show viewership goes up to 2.2 m just for that week it aired when counting the PVR/Player… don’t have the BBC’s figs. TV Populations are from TAM Ireland and BARB UK).

    On Channel Share of Viewing: Comparing RTE to BBC
    In 2017, BBC1 and BBC2 21.8% and 5.8% respectively.
    In 2017, RTE1 and RTE2 20.26% and 5.96% respectively.
    Their performance in pulling viewers based on the two biggest channels each produce is neck and neck, in fairness.

    Other bits…

    RTE Radio regularly holds 18 of the top 20 listened to programmes, weekly, monthly or annually. Can be found on (requires a login but it is free)

    Top 20 watched on RTE channels for 2017
    1 The Late Late Toy Show
    2 Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Mummy
    3 The Sunday Game Live – Live Play: Clare V Cork
    4 The Saturday Game Live – Live Play: Kerry V Mayo
    5 The Rose Of Tralee International Festival 2017
    6 The Sunday Game Live – Live Play: Cork V Waterford
    7 Dancing With The Stars
    8 The Sunday Game Live – Post Match: Clare V Cork
    9 The Late Late Show
    10 News Special – Storm Ophelia
    11 The Saturday Game Live – Post Match: Kerry V Mayo
    12 News Special – Storm Ophelia
    13 Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Gamble
    14 NYE Countdown Concert
    15 Mrs Brown’s Boys: CSI Mammy
    16 Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Christmas Punch
    17 Striking Out
    18 Room To Improve
    19 The Sunday Game Live – Live PLay: Waterford V Cork
    20 RTE News: Nine O’Clock

    – – – – – UK TV Universes – More info on UK Top Programmes – Annual share of viewing UK – for TV viewership in Ireland – requires a login, but is free.

    – – – –

    Do I think RTE could be a tighter run operation, yes, yes I do. Is it as bad a product as many purport, no, no it is not. Does it need to improve, of course it does.

  8. andy

    Comparing the CEO’s salaries to their revenues is bizzare.

    Is the suggestion that Forbes should be getting the same share as the BBC guy? That’d give her a total salary of €32,000. She’d make more working in the canteen.

    Much of RTE radio is cr@p.

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