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.
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