Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game


From top: RTE Annual Report 2019 released yesterday’ RTÉ Player streams reached 50million views that year; Vanessa Foran

We are about to take a walk through the annual report for RTÉ for the financial year that ended before Covid 19 even began.  It is also the year I had this to say in the month before it closed.

“The failure is both Financial and Operational; and it was all under the jurisdiction of its strategic level decision makers, its board of directors.”

14 months later Chair Moya Doherty introduced the report you are about to read some more about with the following;

The current funding model is broken, and RTÉ will face a material uncertainty about its capacity to provide the same level of services in the medium term if it is not resolved quickly and definitively,”

The feted, styled, and heavily promo’ed leader of the organisation, the Chair of the Board of RTÉ, is telling us its Funding that is to blame.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t an organisation relying on charitable donations or volunteers, nor is it a scrappy start-up looking to escalate its second round of finance; this is a comfortable, well-resourced, staffed, and established entity that has had the benefit of significant finance, external expertise and assistance for decades.   It even has an Orchestra.

There are no exciting new productions, or script options, or talent hires, or digital opportunities, or major investment announcements or commercial ventures, or simple cutting its cloth; not even a nod to the revised strategy of November 2019 – It’s the Funding Model.

Moya Doherty is attempting to frame the Funding Model, because it requires very little change in how RTÉ run the business of RTÉ, or what the plans are for the future of RTÉ.

This is the poor mouth being staged under theatre lights.  Its Fiction.

So what are they telling us about 2019 in Montrose.

Well, its now Your Public Media.”

That’s how RTÉ introduces itself to the readers of this report.  Your Public Media.  Even more cosmetic covering up of its failure as the National Broadcaster.

I reach page two to be presented loudly with flash; Mission Vision & Values.

Have a good go at these.

To campion Irish culture…. Cultivating Ireland’s talent   … To enrich Irish life with content that challenges, educates and entertains

As an organisation and individually, we will be outward looking, creative, respectful, sustainable, and accountable, collaborative, and transparent.

And tell me which one explains the expenditure of over €23m on Acquired Programming from Overseas versus just over €3m on Local Produce?

Programming expenditure is really where RTÉ tells you what they do there all day, and in fairness, there is a healthy spend on indigenous programming, across their spectrum from the flagship RTÉ 1 down the line to Online Services and wherever that ends up.

A spend of €235.1m is quoted, which breaks out into a rough 80:20 split between In-house and Commissioned.  So at least they are using their gifted facilities for something.  But within that €235m, €2.7m was charged under Religious.

€2.7m was spent by “Your Public Media” on religious programmes in 2019.  Add that to the Papal extravaganza’ed over indulged exuberance from the year before.

Unless its News; like a Priest getting sentenced, religious programming is not a matter for “Your Public Media”.  If Religious groups want stuff on the telly, they should buy advertising or pay for product placement in the same way they buy PR and Crisis Management Services.

My old reliable with the RTÉ annual, Acquired Programming.  Again, across the range of RTÉ’s output, €26.7m worth of content was bought in, and in, again roughly, an 87:13 relationship between Overseas: Local Produce.

Or, €23.4m of Licence Payers funds was spent acquiring content like Ally McBeal, and € 3.3m for the locals.

€23.4m plus € 2.7 is a handy enough start into that promise on page 2, Cultivating Ireland’s talent.

I am not persuaded by the disclosures and detail presented on the page labelled 106, because like all the previous RTÉ annuals I’ve done here, it’s all about the presentation, and the staging.

Here its staged that RTÉ 1, RTÉ2, R1 & 2FM return a surplus to the organisation.  However I will ask ye to look at it from a public service value-for-money point of view, a place where not everything is a financial decision, so what do you now think of this – RTÉ 2 and 2FM, required almost €77m for their content in 2019.  €77,000.000.00

Yet Lyric plus TnG plus RnaG (net of Lyric’s half a million ish surplus btw) only needed € 25.3m.

The point here is, the National Broadcaster is going to cost money, nobody denies that.  Nobody pretends it shouldn’t.

But why does it need funding for anything if they can maintain 2FM, or use funds to acquire The Simpsons or Home & Away or Big Bang Theory, all of which have their own 24/7 channels somewhere.

I understand there was a need one time for a strong buying-in policy, like in the 80s shows such as Dallas were must see TV.  There is nothing charged to Acquired Programming from Overseas that I or anyone else reading this report cannot access from a half of dozen different Public Media outlets.  Or can acquire independently, like an old fashioned DVD or box set, without imposing on the Tax Payer.

I have no problem in Acquired Programming, like the big big movie stuff.  But why can’t RTÉ look also at developing or co-developing its own big big movie stuff? I see no evidence of that even being a Strategic Goal.  Anywhere within the organisation.

Likewise, I do not accept that the RTÉ are acquiring a library or reusable inventory either.  Neither do they either as it happes;  values of acquired content are written off on the second repeat (pg 101).

And that’s where I struggle again with RTÉ.  There is far too much space given to the day-to-day P&L operational level stuff, like Dee Forbes’ payroll (same as 2018 btw) and canteen costs.  I’ve done it there myself picking apart programming.

If we are serious about calling out RTÉ we must insist it goes back to where its all going wrong.  Its Strategy, albeit Revised Strategy, its Strategic Level Decision making, its Governance and its Culture.

It is devoid of any ambition or creative courage.  It just wants to keep the same show on the same road.  Their Board composition continually renews terms and all from the same backgrounds.  There is no willingness to look outside their own comfort zone and familiar settings.

A goal of strict aggressive Change Management is currently impossible in RTÉ.  The world changed since that Year End Report, but RTÉ hasn’t.  If it had that’s what we would have heard from Moya Doherty yesterday, not The current funding model is broken, and RTÉ will face a material uncertainty about its capacity to provide the same level of services in the medium term if it is not resolved quickly and definitively,”

Why or how could any organisation be considered for Taxpayer Funds, additional or otherwise, like grants If they have no Strategy that recognises a very different future.

This report is titled Your Public Media Yet RTÉ has no idea what it must deliver under that title.  Go to page 64.

A portion of a middle of a three-column page is given to its Player, which is its best opportunity.  Don’t believe me?  Check Channel 4s outreach on their player or the numbers engaging RTÉ Player for Sports content that they already secure through licencing.  This is content that will always have a streaming and on-demand market, and it’s a market that will always have Paddys abroad creating an even bigger market for and regenerating it.

That €23 plus million spent on Home and Away and the like probably doesn’t taste as nice now.

This report itself tells you that RTÉ’s own Content is the most accessed for the On-Demand audience, and they’re hiding it.  They treat their Player opportunity like they are uncomfortable with it; it’s not Weekends on Radio 1 with all the pals around and canteen brunch for afters, or Friday night in Studio 1.

This report, incidentally, gave more air to its Board composition by gender and diversity lines, than it did to the RTÉ Player.

You know what RTÉ needs – it needs a Strategic Director with years of the experience of the BBC, CNN, Discovery Channels, Shondaland, Netflix etc.  Or someone who has worked in the dept of Foreign Affairs – and knows how to work a Grant Application.

The former can create value, promise independence, innovation in every colour and create a commercial appetite, plus all those things quoted on page 2 of this report.  A Real National Flagship that can qualify for what ever funding it needs.

The other just buys you another five years just the same as the last five years.

Another full year has passed and been completed by Montrose.  With no change in Montrose at any level.  So, between now and when that Annual Report comes out, remember this, most of their content was handed to them last year, from Covid Briefings, round the clock hysteria, their ‘big stars’ in their sheds, Luke O’Neill moving in, and the best Paddys Day coverage ever.  For Free.

The biggest year for Video On Demand and Streaming services was 2020.

Yet RTÉ will blame Funding.

Gas isn’t it.

Vanessa Foran is a principal at Recovery Partners.

Yesterday: Meanwhile, In Montrose

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17 thoughts on “Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

  1. Bitnboxy

    While I did speed read this, what comes across in Vanessa’s piece is an abiding belief in the principle of public service broadcasting and how this core and very important remit is being eroded by poor management and a lowest common denominator mentality at RTE. We are lucky to have a public broadcaster free of polarizing and partisan programming but unless a coherent long-term strategy that takes account of the profound changes in the broadcast landscape is implemented, then we might well see the end of our public service broadcaster, replaced by entities whose very mandate is the antithesis of public service broadcasting.

    1. ce

      Yep – reform/downsize the board and cut senior management, and get working with local producers. Buying in stuff that will turn up on any other streaming service/channel is a waste of money

    2. TessFlynn

      Was reading with interest until she claimed religion should not be on public broadcasts – religion interests a huge proportion of the population – more so than most sports, dramas or cultural events. Why should the people interested in religion not be represented while minority sports and cultural institutions get representation. Very narrow minded thinking, you should be more accepting of different interests.

      1. ( ̄_, ̄ ) AKA Frilly Keane

        It is very likely that I was influenced by my own prejudice Tess
        I want Religion removed from all State services
        From the Dáil prayer to Schools, Hospitals and Airwaves
        Charities, Community Services and even our Government, at every level

        I have never denied that or kept it hidden or behind a mask
        From anyone
        But you were right to call it out, because in is a bias

        However, the timing here is unfortunate
        Barely a Fortnight ago a Religious Organisation extracted an Apology and an act of Censorship from RTÉ,
        For a comedy skit. A comedy sketch that had Satire entirely as its premise, from script to final edit
        That demonstrates influence over RTE’s decision making

        And barely a Week ago we got a Commission Report whose integrity can also be viewed as Satire, because for the majority of people in the State, and from all the Survivors is was a joke. Not a funny haha joke, but an offensive hurtful deceitful one.
        That demonstrates influence on the Commission

        Perhaps if all three incidents, The Apology & Censorship, The M+B Commission Report and the RTÉ Annual Report for 2019 hadn’t all happened in the same fortnight
        Then maybe interpretation might not have been pointed.

        In any event, I stand by my assertion
        Your Public Media, RTÉ, the National Broadcaster, whatever you want to refer to them as
        Should not have any Religious Programming beyond its News & Current Affairs remits.

        Religious organisations & Interests can purchase advertising and pay for Product Placement like every other commercial entity trading in the Country.

    1. Andrew

      No thanks. Higher taxes will not equal better services. RTE does not want to reform. It will mean higher salaries, more Brendan O’Carroll and repeats.
      If you want to pay more Sara good for you change RTE to a subscription service. If they are as good as they think, they’ll do fine.

    2. V aka Frilly Keane

      I would disagree there Sara

      Funding them from the General Exchequer – year to year via the Minister’s Budget Speech
      Is giving them a blank cheque with zero Accountability to the Viewer,
      And there’s zero evidence that the Auditor Comptroller General can do anything with them

      Besides, its a regularly greased open door to influence, and a 24/7 365 Conflict of Interest

      Given the set up they were given, for free, and the support year in year out, plus the licensing protection that kept them away from competition
      Plus all the advertising business they get from the State
      Including significant Content across the full breath of their business lines
      And all the opportunity and resources to become the very best at what they do in a number of activities
      There is no reason why they aren’t actually in a position to pay a dividend / surplus back to their Minister

      Like the Central Bank do
      Like Aer Rianta do
      Like ESB do
      Ok. Maybe not at their values

      But if Inland Fisheries can pay a few bob every now and again …

  2. Otis Blue

    V, you mention the need for a Strategic Director with Network experience. Remember though that Moya Doherty’s protégée, Dee Forbes, the first external appointment to RTÉ Director General in over 50 years was championed as a Ted Turner and Discovery Networks alumnus. All we ever hear is her wanging on about increasing the license fee. Not a breeze about vision, innovation or energy. She just seems to be treading water until the next gig comes along. Not a success by any yardstick.

    1. V aka Frilly Keane

      I was being factitious – see the bit about the skills expertise and experience an ex Dept of Foreign Affairs staffer Director of Strategy offers. read between the lines
      (Who Dee inherited btw)

      It must also be considered that Dee may not be allowed do anything much out there anyway
      That Board hasn’t really changed in her time so far
      Any individual directors have just been replaced by the same old from the same pool – who ever’s turn tis

      Also – maybe Dee is just a steady pair of hands type Manager
      And maybe the Hire was all about the announcement it gave them at the time
      Woman Outsider …
      That’s about as close as they’ve ever got to Change there

      Maybe Dee isn’t the kinda determined steely Change Management style CEO
      Like Willie Walsh say

      Although more Michael O’Leary all guns blazing is what that place needs

  3. Axelf

    Brilliant work there Vanessa.

    It’s a bit rich for moya Doherty to be bleating about Dates funding when you consider how Rates finances would have looked haad they kept the IP for riverdance

  4. Mé Féin

    It is devoid of any ambition or creative courage. Well said. That is a good part of the problem. The other part is that it is less “public service television” and more “state television.” Big difference.

    1. V aka Frilly Keane

      Funny you should say that

      Just now there
      The big big movie – some Star Trekkie thing
      Just stopped

      For the Lotto

      Seriously – folks
      How they’re not making money hand over fist ….

      Imagine having an ad break during the biggest family viewing slot of the week (outside the Toy Show)
      All to yourself

  5. V aka Frilly Keane

    Yesterday saw the release of a restructuring agreement between RTÉ and the RTÉ Trade Union Group (TUG)

    Naturally its typically all about Payroll and Allowances and Sick Pay; since they have managed to convince everyone that what they pay themselves is all that’s wrong with the place.

    As in a similar pay agreement before, this is only a temporary restructure, and may well revert back, as it did before. You’ll know by May 2023 btw. By then you may have another Minister, Government, Board Chair, & DG, so it’s not unfair to suggest its a temporary measure being pushed further down for the next crowd to sort out.

    If RTÉ expect their fortunes to change by chipping off a few ticks here and there, cutting sick pay, they are very mistaken. And so would you and I, and everyone else entitled to have something to say about our National Broadcaster.

    If you want your Strategic Plan to start with Payroll folks, let the voluntary redundancies, exits and early retirements, take their turn first. Then you know what your Manpower Roster is, what skills have been retained in house, what you will be capable of producing, and how much it will cost, what you have to budget for and provide for.

    Shaving a %point here and a cent there isn’t going to change anything in RTÉ. You can expect this all to be repeated again.

    There is no promise either that those taking an early exit under this latest Stability Agreement won’t be back under a contract supplier role, or as a guest on a couch sometime.

    And it is for those two principle reasons I think this whole Stability Agreement exercise was merely a pilot production.

    By Year Ending 2023 it will be in the exact same place it was in Year Ending 2019, only with less land assets to sell, most likely.

    Some good news promised RTÉ will reduce dependence on out-side service providers
    So with that,
    Slán tamaill, V

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