Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 January 2023
Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport And Media
Future of the Media Sector: Discussion
This meeting has been convened with representatives from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, RTÉ, TG4, Screen Ireland, Community Television Association of Ireland and Virgin Media Television to discuss future business model, plans and long-term vision for the media sector in television and film. On behalf of the committee, I warmly welcome the witnesses. From the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, I welcome Celene Craig, CEO, who is joined by Stephanie Comey, assistant chief executive, and, remotely, by Liam Boyle, senior manager. We congratulate Ms Craig on the announcement of her appointment to the role of broadcasting commissioner and look forward to engaging constructively with her. From RTÉ television I welcome Rory Coveney, director of strategy, and Adrian Lynch, director of audience, channels and marketing. Cuirim fáilte roimh ard-stiúrthóir TG4, Alan Esslemont. From Screen Ireland, I welcome Désirée Finnegan, CEO, and Andrew Byrne, head of television. From the Community Television Association of Ireland I welcome Ciaran Murray, chairperson, and Emma Bowell, treasurer. From Virgin Media Television, I welcome managing director, Paul Farrell, joined by deputy managing director, Áine Ní Chaoindealbháin. That is a lot of witnesses. Usually the introductions are not that long but we will plough on.
The format of the meeting is such that I will invite the witnesses to deliver their opening statements, which are limited to three minutes. This will be followed by questions from members. As witnesses are probably aware, the committee may publish the opening statements on its web page. Before inviting the witnesses to deliver those statements, I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practices of the House as regards references witnesses make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. Witnesses who give evidence from outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness giving evidence from within said precincts and may consider it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they be physically present within the confines of Leinster House to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to attend where he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Any member who attempts to attend from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting.
I propose that we proceed with the opening statements, starting with Celene Craig from BAI.
Ms Celene Craig:
On behalf of the BAI, I thank the Acting Chair and members of the committee for the opportunity to meet with it to discuss future business model, plans and the long-term vision for the media sector, both television and film. I am joined by my colleagues Stephanie Comey, assistant CEO, and, virtually, Liam Boyle, senior manager. We hope our contribution will be of assistance to the committee in its deliberations on these important matters.
The BAI is the independent regulator for broadcasting in Ireland, established further to the Broadcasting Act 2009. We give effect to our mission to regulate, foster and support a financially sustainable broadcasting sector through a broad range of activities, such as the licensing, regulation and support of independent and public service broadcasting media in Ireland, and the funding for television and radio archiving and programmes relating to Irish culture, heritage and experience. The BAI’s strategic objectives reflect and give effect to this mission.
In response to the significant challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the BAI provided supports for the sector including the operation of additional Sound and Vision funding rounds and the waiver of the broadcasting levy for the independent radio sector for the first six months of 2020. We continue to focus on financial sustainability across a broad range of activities, including our funding schemes and sectoral learning and development initiatives, and by contributing to debates on the future legislative and regulatory frameworks that will support digital and broadcasting media services.
I will touch briefly on some key BAI activities which I hope are most relevant to today’s discussion. In respect of the Future of Media Commission report, there have been developments today. We welcomed the publication of the report and the publication earlier today of the recommendations and strategy of the implementation group. The report's original recommendations reflected our extensive experience in regulating the performance of public service broadcasters, and in the regulation of the broadcast media more broadly. We engaged extensively in the commission's public consultation process, having prepared a number of submissions across a range of areas relevant to the commission’s remit.
We were pleased to see many of the BAI proposals reflected in the commission’s recommendations. I will touch on some of these areas. They are also referenced in the recommendations and implementation strategy approved today. We welcome the majority of the recommendations in respect of the funding of public service media as part of a framework for ensuring the future sustainability of such media via increased public funding and reform of the television licence fee funding model.
We believe strong public service structures and content are the key to preserving public trust in the media, thereby supporting healthy democratic processes. The BAI notes with concern that the issue of the future sustainability of public service media has not yet been resolved, and it is our view that reformation of the funding model is crucial in ensuring a sustainable future for public service media organisations. This can be achieved only via the realisation of multi-annual funding arrangements, ideally linked to a binding recommendation made by the independent regulator.
In respect of our support for public service content and the wider media sector, the BAI also welcomes the recommendations set out in the Future of Media Commission report, including the proposal to expand the broadcasting funding scheme into a media fund, with increased funding and the creation of a number of additional schemes.
Ms Celene Craig:
I will do so. In our report, we also address issues such as the regulation of public service media in the future and the broadcasting funding scheme, and we provide details on how we have offered support through that activity. As the Acting Chairman highlighted, we are about to be merged into the new Coimisiún na Meán, and we have been actively contributing to both the legislation and the development of some of the new proposals and in assisting the Department with operationalising and establishing the new commission. We have detailed some of these matters in our report.
I thank the Acting Chairman and the members of the committee. We will be happy to take any questions they might have arising from the report.
I thank Ms Craig. I apologise for not stating clearly during my opening remarks that three minutes has been allotted for each opening statement, although I will allow a bit of leeway with that. Many of the submissions are very detailed and we will have a chance to look over them. Members will have eight minutes each for questions, so our guests will have opportunities to raise any issues they might not have got across in their opening statements.
I invite Mr. Coveney of RTÉ to make his opening statement.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
I will try to summarise my prepared submission, which would take much longer than three minutes to read out in full. Members will have received copies of it in advance.
We are pleased to attend this meeting to discuss the important issue of the sustainability of broadcasting and media in Ireland. Published last summer, the Future of Media Commission report made far-reaching recommendations, which the Government has largely accepted, on a range of topics relating to the future of our sector. As Ms Craig noted, the Government has published a plan to begin implementing many of those recommendations. Indeed, in the most recent budget, it began funding some of the key recommendations, which reinforced the confidence of all of us in the report.
A couple of structural issues in the report are especially pertinent to today's discussion, the first of which relates to RTÉ's remit. Fundamentally, our remit is not changing. While there are some adjustments to be made and there are definitional questions relating to the Internet and so on, the scope of what we are being asked to do by the Government and by public policy remains the same. This is important because it has implications for the financial and human resources required to deliver on our obligations. Nor is the dual funding model changing. These issues were all considered exhaustively in the context of the deliberations of the commission. Again, that is important because it determines how RTÉ must behave and impacts on the market itself. RTÉ is obliged by statute, as most members of the committee will know, to exploit commercial opportunities as they arise in pursuit of our public service objects, and that is not changing.
In Ireland, as elsewhere, we are all part of a fast-changing commercial media market. The reality facing RTÉ, with increasing media fragmentation, digital disruption and global competition, is that we must continue to develop and grow our advertising-based income, particularly digital advertising, while also developing new non-advertising-based commercial opportunities. Our submission details some of these new areas and we will be happy to discuss them during the session. Regulation will also be critical, as envisaged in the Future of Media Commission report, in rebalancing the relationship between media and big tech. We look forward to discussing the practical implications of some of that today.
In regard to public funding, the Future of Media Commission report is clear on the need for substantial reform of the public funding system that underpins public service media and much beyond that in Ireland today. While the Government did not accept the prescription of the commission, it did and does accept the diagnosis that the current system is not working. As for RTÉ's future business model, we need to be clear that public funding represents more than 50% of the hybrid funding model that underpins everything we are asked to do. The current licence fee system loses in excess of €65 million a year and is continuing to get worse as technology evolves. There is not a sustainable future for RTÉ, and for many other of our key partners that rely on our capacity to invest, without a reformed public funding model.
There is much to consider beyond these questions regarding the future of Irish media. From RTÉ's perspective, the Internet offers us incredible opportunities to enhance what we do, to allow us to be more responsive to audiences and to better deliver on our obligations. Central to our strategy in the coming years is building the capacity to combine the power of broadcasting, streaming and digital publishing to deliver an integrated and increasingly personalised public service for all our audiences throughout the day. RTÉ's best response to the obvious threats of misinformation and disinformation is in ensuring we can continue to provide a comprehensive news and current affairs service that is fair and accurate and remains highly trusted by the public.
Moreover, given the extraordinary power and resources of global media entities, we must partner with others to deliver mutual benefits and impact with audiences. We already do much of this today. We work with many partners, some of them represented at this meeting, to deliver premium Irish drama, for example. We are working with our colleagues in TG4 and Virgin to ensure key sporting events remain accessible, all largely free to air, to audiences in Ireland. Through our partnerships with all sorts of events and projects, we support Irish culture, talent, creativity and creative expression of all kinds. Resources allowing, there is much more we can do in this area and others to offer audiences the journalism, programming and services they deserve. There is much to be discussed today and we look forward to participating in that.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
I will deliver my opening statement in Irish, given I understand that members have received an English language explanation and that simultaneous interpretation facilities have been made available.
Is é an t-éacht aonair is mó a rinne in Éirinn maidir le éagsúlacht dhomhanda ná a teanga féin a sheachadadh ó ghlúin go glúin mar theanga bheo na dteaghlach agus na bpobal. Is í ár dteanga, an teanga Ghaeilge, an bronntanas is luachmhaire a bhronn muid ar éagsúlacht na cruinne seo agus tá sé de phribhléid agus de fhreagracht ar gach glúin Éireannach teanga na hÉireann a chothabháil mar chuid den éiceachóras domhanda teanga agus den éagsúlacht dhomhanda teanga.
Ainneoin a seasamh bunreachtúil, feidhmíonn an Ghaeilge mar mhionteanga agus, cosúil le gach mionteanga, tá sí i mbaol language shift nó athrú teanga, an próiseas trína n-aistríonn pobal labhartha teanga ó theanga amháin go dtí teanga eile. I gcomhthéacs "athrú teanga", rangaíonn UNESCO anois an Ghaeilge mar theanga atá "definitely endangered".
Tá todhchaí na Gaeilge ag brath ar an bParlaimint seo agus ar iarrachtaí an Stáit seo cur go láidir in aghaidh athrú teanga, agus gníomhaíocht ar son na héagsúlachta teanga a choinneáil ag croílár a chuid straitéisí agus polasaithe.
Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt d’obair an Rialtais seo maidir le TG4 a láidriú agus, go háirithe, buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire, Teachta Catherine Martin, as a tacaíocht thar na trí bhuiséad dheiridh. Mar sin féin, tá TG4 fós i bhfad chun deiridh ar chraoltóirí mionteangacha Eorpacha eile ó thaobh maoinithe agus scála de, ar nós S4C sa Bhreatain Bheag nó EITB i dTír na mBascach. Is é S4C an cainéal mionteanga is cosúla le TG4 ach tá a bhuiséad iomlán faoi dhó níos mó ná buiséad TG4.
Tá muid an-bhródúil in TG4 as an méid atá bainte amach againn le cúpla bliain anuas. Luadh cheana an Coimisiún um Thodhchaí na Meán a bhfuil an-tábhacht leis. Is é moladh 7-2 ó Choimisiún na Meán sa Todhchaí ná:
Ba chóir don BAI/Coimisiún na Meán athbhreithniú cuimsitheach a dhéanamh ar sholáthar seirbhísí agus ábhair Ghaeilge ar fud chóras na meán ina leagfar béim ar struchtúir institiúideacha agus deiseanna maidir le nuálaíocht agus comhoibriú. Ba chóir go mbeadh moltaí san athbhreithniú seo, atá le tabhairt chun críche laistigh de 18 mí, maidir le soláthar seirbhísí Gaeilge a fheabhsú.
Molann TG4 go ndéanfaí an t-athbhreithniú cuimsitheach seo go tráthúil agus táimid an-sásta leis an scéal go bhfuil plean anois ann na moltaí maidir le Coimisiún um Thodhchaí na Meán a thabhairt ar aghaidh.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
Cathaoirleach and committee members, thank you for inviting us here today. I am chief executive of Fís Éireann. I am joined by Andrew Byrne, head of television. As the national agency for feature film, television, animation and documentary, Screen Ireland is a champion and advocate for original storytelling across all screens. We value the expression of national Irish culture on screen, ensuring the sector is sustainable and inclusive. We are seeing world-class Irish creative talent and breathtaking locations celebrated on the world stage, with the global box office success and award-winning acclaim of "The Banshees of Inisherin" and "An Cailín Ciúin". Screen Ireland works closely with international industry stakeholders to fund and assist Irish screen projects from early-stage development through to production, distribution, marketing, broadcast and exhibition. In recent years, there has been extensive growth in both local and international production. From 2019 to 2021, local Irish feature film activity increased by 52% and local Irish TV drama production spend increased by 40%. Irish animation has also demonstrated a further increase following a decade of rapid growth that resulted in record-breaking production levels.
The Cine4 scheme, which has driven the success we now see in Irish-language film, illustrates the strength of local funding partnerships between TG4, Screen Ireland and the BAI, which, in conjunction with the crucial support of section 481, is now helping produce more Irish-language film than ever before. As a result, we are now exploring a model of investment in Irish-language TV drama following a similar approach. Up until recent years, the Irish screen industry had not fully exploited the international opportunities to grow Irish high-end TV drama. In line with the Government’s ambition to make Ireland a global centre of excellence for production, the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, provided additional funding to Screen Ireland specifically to grow the slate of Irish TV drama. This additional support, together with strong partnerships here, have helped build a strong foundation, allowing us to build new business models for TV drama, focused on access to finance through international partnerships. The results of this policy are clearly demonstrated by the increased output of drama over the past two years. Screen Ireland’s investment slate has now increased fourfold, featuring numerous international co-productions filming in Ireland and across the globe, with Irish voices, talent and stories represented across all the major TV platforms and networks.
The challenges ahead include the provision of sustainable funding sources to compete in the international marketplace; changes in audience behaviour and how content is accessed, alongside the increasing presence of international streamers and platforms. Screen Ireland strongly supports the role of Irish public service media in promoting cultural diversity and Irish storytelling on screen that is accessible to all audiences. In a European context, the disruption across the audiovisual landscape has highlighted the preservation of cultural diversity in Europe as a key priority for member states. The ongoing collaboration between the stakeholders represented here today, working with our international counterparts, will ensure Ireland continues its remarkable trajectory as a global production hub and a thriving environment for Irish cultural storytelling on screen. I look forward to answering any questions the committee might have.
Mr. Ciaran Murray:
Go raibh maith agat as ucht an deis chun labhairt inniú. Community television is a distinct third sector in Irish television broadcasting. This is defined in Irish law, and is supported by EU resolution and Council of Europe recommendations. It differs from other broadcasters in several ways. This difference can be characterised by its ownership structure, its participatory element and by the diversity of views and voices it gives a platform to. It is owned and controlled by the community it serves with governance provided by a voluntary board of management. It facilitates participation at all levels and from a wide range of groups. Young people, older people, migrant communities, members of the Traveller community, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ communities all engage with community television. The difference is that these groups are actively involved at all stages of production and have editorial control over the content they produce. This is television made by communities for communities. We have the broad aim of making our society a better place to live through promoting a better understanding of the different communities that live here. Community television also deals with issues covered under the UN sustainable development goals and promotes media literacy as an integral part of its work. Community television is and has the potential to be an exciting place content on television that is not commercially viable. Students can also get access to have their content broadcast and gain valuable experience.
We have achieved a lot over the past 15 years since our first licensing with the then Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, but we know that we could achieve a whole lot more with some support for a more sustainable business model. There are two community television stations currently operating in Ireland, one in Dublin and one in Cork. To date the stations have been run primarily by volunteers. This is just not sustainable. This is where we ask for the committee's support. I will pass over to my colleague.
Ms Emma Bowell:
Our organisations span both the media sector and the community and voluntary sector. As everyone knows for an organisation to be professionally run, it needs paid staff who can then be supported by volunteers. Although we are obviously running on a much smaller scale than the likes of RTÉ, TG4 or Virgin Media, we still have many of the same tasks to do, such as programming and scheduling content, broadcast engineering, financial management, compliance with the BAI codes and standards to name just a few. Through the incredible dedication of a core group of people who have stuck with this for the past 15 years, we have broadcast thousands of hours of community programming and provided enormous social benefit for these communities. However, to develop sustainably we need a guaranteed source of annual income. We believe the most obvious source for this would be 1% of the annual TV licence fee, or whatever the new model may be. Social benefit is something we are very committed to. We welcome the new social benefit round in Sound and Vision but we would like there to be an annual commitment to this. Another source of support could potentially come from the new content levy and we wish to be included in any schemes being developed as part of this.
In order for community television to develop sustainably, we need to increase its visibility. Not everybody knows that we exist. Currently the two stations are only available on a subscription service with Virgin Media. While we thank Virgin Media for the facilitation of this over the years, we are, at Channels 802 and 803, difficult to find in the listings. We would like to be moved higher up the listings. Fundamentally, we believe community television should be available on a free-to-air basis to everyone in the country and in future we would like to see a community TV channel on Saorview. This could perhaps be a best of community TV from around the country. We also have a keen interest from NVTV, a community TV station in Belfast, which could then develop into an all-island channel. To finish, we have a proven track record in providing social benefit and helping to build community through media. With further support we know that we can achieve so much more.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
I am joined by my colleague, Áine Ní Chaoindealbháin, who is our deputy managing director. I will now summarise the submission we made in advance of today's meeting. Virgin Media Television is Ireland’s leading independent, national and commercial public service broadcaster, operating under the provisions of sections 70 and 71 of the Broadcasting Act 2009. In our submission we outline a deeply competitive and challenging media marketplace where prominence and discovery for public service broadcasters and content is being undermined by global media platforms and content distributors who have no clear obligation or commitment to public service media in Ireland. We have also seen 33 new commercial channels arriving across various platforms over the past ten years. This has completely distorted and changed the commercial TV landscape in Ireland and most of these are unregulated, opt-out or in-spill channels. There is continued growth in time-shifted viewing, increased fragmentation of viewing towards both broadcaster and subscription video on demand, VOD, services, and a growing influence from online services such as YouTube. These developments, along with technological advancements that allow for increased ad-skipping, have resulted in a decline in viewing of Irish content particularly among younger demographics.
Competition for eyeballs is also expanding in the connected TV space, that is any TV connected to the Internet. With broadband roll-out in Ireland continuing to grow, with almost 93% of households now with a connected TV or broadband service, this will represent a challenge and a shift away from a traditional paid or free TV services.
To provide a viable future for Irish public service media, several essential changes are required to be considered urgently by Coimisiún na Meán and by the Department to support the future viability of the Irish media sector. The first change must be the creation of a single digital platform to deliver Irish public service media and content. The current digital terrestrial television service, Saorview, is not capable of delivering this requirement.
In other European territories, broadcasters have come together to fund, develop and operate a modern, shared digital delivery platform. This allows viewers to find all local public service content seamlessly across all relevant platforms. The same should be done in Ireland.
The cost of content and service distribution is deeply prohibitive. Coherent policy is needed on the future application of digital terrestrial television spectrum, in a context in which the lack of development of a digital platform is a major challenge for the indigenous sector. Prominence and inclusion for all Irish public service media must be secured from all the platforms that distribute content from public service media providers in Ireland.
We also need to see a more agile regulation regime to foster innovation and meet audience needs, including greater policy alignment between the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, and the relevant Departments. Co-ordinated regulatory and policy changes are required across all relevant Departments to offer more flexibility and enhance public service media economics.
The overall objective must be to create a more level and balanced playing field that reflects rapid changes in technology and market and viewer behaviour. This objective must be aligned with what the public service media regime can and should deliver for Irish audiences and for society. I thank the committee members and I look forward to taking their questions.
I thank all the witnesses for their presentations and for keeping in mind the time constraints. There is much food for thought in what we have heard and a lot of common themes, which will be teased out further by way of members' questions. We agreed a speaking rota earlier and that each member will have an eight-minute slot for questions and answers. The first speaker is Senator Warfield for Sinn Féin.
We are being very generous in giving ourselves eight minutes. I probably will not use all my time. I welcome all the witnesses and thank them for their presentations. My first question is for the ard-stiúrthóir of TG4. What needs to be done to support the audiovisual sector in the regions? On the same point, will the Screen Ireland delegates comment on their support for the section 481 regional uplift scheme and whether they are working with the Department of Finance on that issue?
Before putting a question to the witnesses from the BAI, I must declare an interest. I was a member of Dublin Community Television for many years and a volunteer there for some time. It has always been a major source of frustration that we have a number of licensed television stations in this country that are not free to air, were not available on the previous system and are not available on digital terrestrial television. What can the BAI do to support Mr. Murray and Ms Bowell of the Community Television Association, who are here today, in their call for visibility and findability on free-to-air digital terrestrial television? That is the least we should expect for any licensed television station. The cost is prohibitive, as we know from the experience of Oireachtas TV. That was a very public process. Surely we all can bring together our collective experiences to ensure any television station that has a licence in this country is publicly available.
Senator Warfield has directed some of his questions at particular groups but if any of the other witnesses wish to respond, I ask that they raise their hand and there will be an opportunity to speak. The Senator's first question was for Mr. Esslemont.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
Independent creativity is really important to TG4 in our television production. We are set up on a publisher-broadcaster model and having strong independent companies is the core of TG4's success. We have had a strong dedication to the regions. In fact, a lot of our industry would not be working in the regions if not for the input of TG4. I have become worried over the past three or four years, however, as I see that, even for companies working for us, if they are in Dublin, it is easier to grow scale. There needs to be a spotlight on the development of our industry in the regions. I am very worried that, as members will be aware, the section 481 regional uplift relief has tapered off and will disappear at the end of this year. That will have a very bad impact on any company that is trying to grow scale within the regions. TG4 is still working on this issue with partners and stakeholders. By the middle of this year, we hope to come to the Department of Finance with an idea for how the regional uplift scheme can be reinstated. It is core to our industry in the regions.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
Regional development absolutely is a priority for Screen Ireland. We had a record-breaking year in 2021 and making sure that growth is seen nationwide is incredibly important. We announced last year that within our budget for 2023, we would be ring-fencing €3.5 million specifically for regional activity and we are engaging in a process with regional stakeholders to design the best way to utilise that fund. We have also launched a number of talent academies, two of which are based in the regions, that is, in Limerick and Galway.
The policy objective of the regional uplift relief was to build a pool of talent and crew outside the main hub of Dublin and Wicklow. It was very effective in doing that but, as Mr. Esslemont mentioned, it has tapered off and is available at 2% this year. The Department of Finance has been very supportive. When the pandemic hit and production was shut down, the 5% rate was extended for another year. We are now working with stakeholders across the regions to discuss what might be the most appropriate policy intervention to ensure there is some support in place to incentivise productions to locate outside the main hub. We feel it is quite a challenge because when a production is located outside Dublin or Wicklow, there are additional costs associated with that. Trying to reach that policy objective and see that growth all across the country feels very important for the industry.
Ms Celene Craig:
Community television and radio is very important to the BAI. It is a fundamental aspect of our licensing strategy of ensuring diversity not only in the type of content available to audiences but the source of that content. The BAI has been very supportive, through the sound and vision scheme and through our own sectoral development programme, of the Community Television Association. We do offer support in that way.
The issue of carriage on free-to-air services is one of cost and trying to find some way of deciding who will bear that cost. The requirement that audiences can access services on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms is embedded in the legislation currently but there is a very heavy cost associated with television broadcasting on the digital terrestrial system. Up to now, there has not been any way of overcoming that. There has been success in terms of the cable service here but nobody has found a solution to how the cost for carriage on terrestrial television can be borne. The question remains as to where the funding that would be required to support such broadcasting might come from. That funding would not be inconsiderable, even on a cost-only basis. It is fair to say that the digital terrestrial system runs on a cost model that has been approved by ComReg. There is a regulated tariff structure that is operated and approved by the commission. It is not a simple problem to overcome.
Quite honestly, working within that model would involve a requirement to find a central source of funding in order to be able to support the carriage of the existing community television services on the DTT platform.
I welcome all of the witnesses and thank them for their input today and contributions to Irish content creation. As a number of witnesses have said, we are seeing almost a renaissance in Irish content. Mar sin, déanaim comhghairdeas le TG4 agus Fís Éireann, agus le hÚdarás Craolacháin na hÉireann, as an scannán álainn "An Cailín Ciúin". Guím gach rath ar an scannán sin sna seachtainí atá romhainn, and other films such as "The Banshees of Inisherin" and so on. It is a film that is a great example of co-operation.
I have three groups of questions and we might be able to come back. I congratulate Ms Craig and wish her the best of luck. Moving on the Future of Media Commission report and the establishment of the commission is moving in the right direction.
My first question is to RTÉ. From Cabinet today, it appears that decisions with regard to the TV licence fee have been kicked to touch again, to a certain extent. If we do not get a decision fairly quickly on the future funding model for RTÉ, what are the implications for it? Related to that is whether RTÉ is prepared to move towards a publisher broadcaster model.
Mar a dúirt Alan Esslemont, is craoltóir-foilsitheoir é TG4. An molfadh sé an struchtúr sin do RTÉ? TG4 has a publisher broadcaster model. Would the witnesses recommend that model? Mr. Farrell or Ms Ní Chaoindealbhain might also address that question. They may not wish to comment, but they might follow the RTÉ representatives.
I want to go back to the serious point and echo the concerns Senator Warfield raised regarding regional uplift. There have been a number of productions with various people here. Doing away with the regional uplift is a short-sighted decision. I ask the witnesses to outline the impact that has had on productions and the implications for film and television production in the regions if we do not proceed with it. I have referenced "An Cailín Ciúin" but there are other productions. It is important to get out the message around why such a fund is important.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
I thank the Senator. The issue of licence fee reform has been around for a while. There have been a series of reports and reviews, most done completely independently of RTÉ. They have been done by the BAI or this committee in the past and the most recent was the Future of Media Commission report.
Part of the reason we structured our opening statement around the core building blocks of the sustainability of RTÉ's funding model is because it is important. They are integrated. As I said, we have a broad remit that no one wants to change. There is no public support for it to be substantially reduced or changed, nor does there seem to be any political desire to do so. As I said, it has implications for the cost of delivering the broad remit to all audiences in terms of multiple types of content across multiple types of services. That is not going to change.
If our remit is adjusted, then we can adjust costs to compensate for a lack of reform in the television licensing fee. Sometimes it gets characterised as if we are looking for some sort of bailout in terms of the public funding question. The public funding part of our dual funding mandate is essential to deliver the public services that we are obliged to deliver. The public funding system by common consent is not working. Not only is it losing substantial amounts of money every year; it could be going into a lot of businesses here today in order to support content generation, journalism and all of the other things we want to talk about and do. The current system is unfair to those who pay the fee because a significant portion of people are not paying.
As our business model evolves towards streaming and digital publishing, something we have to do in order to keep pace with audience trends and the market, we are fundamentally undermining the licence fee even further because as it is currently constituted streaming does not come under it. People accessing our services exclusively through the RTÉ player are not obliged to pay the fee.
It is an existential question. I am not remotely suggesting that the fixes are easy or without political costs.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
Mr. Lynch might comment on that. Our remit certainly lends itself more to commissioning. Fundamentally, the producer-commissioner model referred to in the future of media report, which the RTÉ has, reflects what we are obliged to do. It reflects the fact we have a significant radio service and significant obligations in news, which editorially requires us to maintain that in-house in order to manage the quality. It reflects our obligations in respect of sport, which are where most of the costs and obligations reside in terms of talent and rights. They do not necessarily lend themselves to much publishing or commissioning.
That is not to say that we could not do more commissioning. In the past we had significantly more resources, and in 2008 we spent over €80 million on commissioning. It is not that we do not want to commission much more from the sector; we do. We need the sector. It is a key partner for us. However, the remit we have obliges us to have a balance between the two.
I am conscious of time. We might go into the broader debate around the publishing broadcaster model, but I will ask Ms Finnegan to comment on the discretionary impact because it is crucial. We might come back to the broader question.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
I have no doubt there is a significant cultural and economic impact from productions that shoot in the regions. Mr. Byrne might provide some recent examples. They include "Hidden Assets", which filmed in Cork and "Smother", which has had a number of seasons and is filmed in Clare. It is important to incentivise productions to be able to film outside the main hubs. In respect of large-scale productions, it is important that we are doing everything possible to meet the policy objective of building a permanent pool of talent and crew in different regions across the country.
Mr. Andrew Byrne:
On that point, as I said it has an impact in respect of international content being made in the regions and the indigenous sector. Last summer there was a swathe of regional activity involving television drama across the west coast. It is important to maintain that because it has an impact in terms of developing crew and investing in the sector locally.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
It is important to design a policy intervention. There has been a discussion around whether there could be a very focused intervention specifically for regional development in order to meet that objective. We think it is vital to find some way to incentivise the sector. The Department of Finance has been very collaborative in hearing all of the views of stakeholders and trying to see what we can do to achieve that.
It is being very collaborative, but it is still getting rid of the regional uplift, which is part of the problem. I appreciate it might be difficult for the witnesses to comment, but it is important for the sector to speak out. As Mr. Byrne has outlined, if we do not have those incentives for the regions we will not see film and television production taking place outside of the greater Dublin area. Would that be fair to say?
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
It is important to provide an incentive to ensure that we see the growth of the sector across the entire country. As Mr. Byrne said, there have been many productions, including, as Senator Byrne referenced, "An Cailín Ciúin, and many other examples of productions, including large-scale productions in Limerick where filming has taken place for an extensive period of time. Opportunities are gained and skilled developed from larger scale production.
Under section 481, a new skills development programme has been put in place and we are seeing huge benefits from that in terms of the kind of upskilling that is being achieved in productions. We in Screen Ireland will work with key stakeholders from the regions, including TG4 and many others, and do everything we can to support that objective.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
From a very simple point of view, and we have said it all along, particularly through the Future of Media Commission, our main gripe, for the want of a better word, is that there is no transparency and accountability as to where public sector funding goes against public service media content. I think it is in the Future of Media Commission report and we ask that there should be transparency in how licence fee money goes to create public service content. Commercial money goes to create commercial content, but the other has never been transparent.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
A DCU report showed quite recently that Ireland is in the bottom third of countries in terms of how much it spends on public service media as a proportion of GDP. There is a whole area to be caught up on that I think is being addressed by the Future of Media Commission, but we feel very strongly that, since Teilifís Éireann was set up, the Irish language has not received the kind of funding for Irish language media that it needs if it is to survive as a language. It is hoped that the announcement today on the implementation of the Future of Media Commission's plans will bring us all together and that we will get a holistic response to what is needed in Ireland. It is not just the one question of how we fix RTÉ. It is actually a question of how we make media in Ireland as strong as they can be.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
I have two points. Part of them relate to Mr. Esslemont's point that it is not just about fixing RTÉ but also more about how we will have a sustainable public funding mechanism that will support public service media in this country. What was interesting about the Future of Media Commission is that it was the most detailed and independent review of public service media that has ever been done. It found that public service media in this country are a merit good in that they serve a common good, minority audiences and broad audiences.
On Mr. Farrell's point around transparency, RTÉ is regulated, so it reports to the regulator and publishes its accounts annually. The accounts are published on RTÉ's website and they are broken down, so a person can go into interactive graphics and see exactly the licence fee attribution. It is all broken down for anyone to see and is very user-friendly for the public.
I apologise for being late. I have a couple of questions and might come back later, if possible, as I did not get to go through the reports fully. A comment was made as to how trusted Irish media are. I believe the figures in the report are that 72% of people trust mainstream media versus 30-odd% who trust social media. That is acknowledged in the Future of Media Commission report and we as a committee have had a lot of discussions on this.
I am very supportive of investment in media that is across all media, including regional radio stations, regional newspapers etc. It is important to support them as well. I am a firm believer that the licence fee should be available to all media to access and that it should not be the preserve of a small number of organisations. The submission mentioned the loss in excess of €65 million per year in the licence fee and that it is not sustainable for the future of RTÉ. What do the witnesses proposing as regards the licence fee and what are their views on how it should be collected?
As regards income, and it is something I raised recently, I know RTÉ has diversified slightly with income revenue streams, one being Toy Show - The Musical. On the decision to go that route and put it on, where is it at financially with regard to the organisation and costs etc.? This committee in particular fought hard to get funding to ensure the pantomime industry, which is a massive part of the industry, was supported in Christmas 2021 with significant State funding. I do not understand State funding in the form of licence fee money going into something that was in competition with community organisations and small companies that we funded to survive, and yet State funding went up against that. I would like the RTÉ representatives to expand on this because it is something I do not understand and with which I totally disagree. I would like to know RTÉ's views as an organisation on where that decision came from, how much has been invested in it, whether it will lose money and what the future plans are.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
I will answer the question on news. There were three points within that. First, what comes out very strongly from the Future of Media Commission report is that it looked at the broader media sector, especially around trust values. What unites us all here today is the fact we know the media landscape is being so disruptive and that disinformation is a massive societal issue. We saw that particularly during Covid-19 and we see it through numerous things. Having trusted media, which Ireland has, is something we need to protect and think about in terms of how we fund them.
As for commercial diversification, if the Senator looks at RTÉ's accounts over the past eight years, he will see the commercial number is between approximately €148 million and €150 million over that time. If he went back to 2012, there were fewer opt-outs operating in this country. There was no Disney+, TikTok, Facebook or Google taking significant money out of the market. Right now, we are almost a minnow at €145 million because the total value of this market is €1.1 billion. From an advertising point of view the commercial market has very much been absorbed primarily into technology companies, which is an issue for all of the Irish media. However, RTÉ has diversified its revenue stream in terms of things like streaming video on demand, VOD, and what we do with our digital products and other types of commercial activities. Overall, the result has been quite stable over the last period of time despite the fact the composition of that commercial number has changed underneath.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
Licence fee options are not decisions for us to make. We gave detailed submissions to the Future of Media Commission process and subsequently gave even more detailed submissions to the Department's technical group, which is currently looking at this issue. RTÉ's position has been pretty clear and has been published. We believe some sort of household-based charge that is decoupled from a television is required to capture accurately the viewing that is going on. The specifics around that and how it is collected and by whom are matters for Government. We cannot fix that. The reality is that evasion in Ireland has always been relatively high by European standards. The dynamic that is now especially difficult is the growth of non-TV homes. This is people consuming television over the Internet, in some cases on large-screen televisions at home, which can be our services and others', and they are not obliged to pay the television licence as it is currently constructed. Unless that loophole is closed, to a degree, a large amount of public service viewing and public service content consumption is falling outside the net. The UK closed that gap, the iPlayer loophole, some time ago when it made it part of the liability for the collection of the television licence. There are a variety of ways of doing it with varying degrees of complexity and burdens, either on the collection agent or the State. Unless that core question is addressed, the problem will get worse. Non-TV homes have risen from approximately 3% seven to eight years ago to 16.5% today, so it is growing at a clip of around 2 million per year in terms of the impact to us. It is not sustainable to deliver.
As regards the musical, we made a detailed submission to the Committee of Public Accounts that I am happy to share with the committee outlining the context of the decision, who was involved in it and the background to it. I know that, on 28 September 2022, this committee had a discussion on musicals and investment in that sector and the need to support Irish musicals, Irish talent and Irish creativity. That is precisely what RTÉ did in this case and we are now looking at the long-term future of the musical and how we might bring it back.
We did not sell as many tickets as we wished to sustain it this year but the plan is to bring the show back. The reaction we got from audiences, particularly children, who attended was fantastic. Engaging children in any content these days is difficult. We did not price or position it against pantomimes. It was largely positioned against the big international shows that come to Dublin, which are based initially on Broadway or in London.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
Yes. We learned a lot from it. It was a big project for us. It is a new medium and falls fully within our remit. We are perfectly entitled to put on ticketed events that are related to our broadcast properties. We have done things like this in the past but not on this scale. We will definitely need to rethink its size and scope and the production itself, and that is what we are doing at the moment, but the creative reaction to the show and the reaction from audiences was very strong. There is something to be build on there. We do not yet know exactly how it will come back - in what form, with whom and so on. We are considering that at the moment.
Mr. Coveney said it was intended to go up against international productions but the reality is that it ended up going up against many homegrown productions in December and the first week of January. That is the period when there are homegrown pantomime productions in every town and county.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
There is no evidence to suggest we took audiences away from such productions. They were priced very differently. One of the issues we are considering is the best date for the show. In the context of the initial review, we may stage it before "The Late Late Toy Show", rather than after it. That may be better. I am not sure whether anyone present saw the show. It may be suited to being staged slightly earlier, rather than during the Christmas period. We have not made any firm decisions on this yet. Like any creative project in RTÉ, it will be reviewed and we will learn it. There was a big learning curve on a project of this size and scale.
My view, which is not a professional one, is that the timing was wrong. If RTÉ is considering putting on the show prior to "The Late Late Toy Show", that would make sense to me, as a person looking at it from the outside.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
There are several factors that go into something like this. It is not something we decided on a whim; it is a project that was in gestation for nearly three years. A significant amount of work went into it. It employed more than 100 people across the theatrical sector and starred many children who will go on to be future stars. We are very proud of it. The story is a unique one and we had to create a load of songs, a set and everything else to go with it. As to how, when and if it comes back, all those decisions are being considered at the moment.
I welcome the witnesses. Mr. Lynch mentioned the non-television homes. There has been an increase to 16.5% in that regard. We are talking about the future of public broadcasting. We dealt with the print media at the committee before Christmas. Of course, in the budget the Government reduced VAT to zero but it is a stop-gap measure. As a person who has worked in the print media, I know that section of our media is in a dire state. In the context of the growing number of non-television homes and the report that was published today, are we looking at stop-gap measures if Exchequer funding is put in? By the way, the report published this morning has dodged the crucial issue again in one sense. The witnesses have come in here and we have dodged the issue once again in terms of saying that it will be looked at as an imperative. Is there a future for traditional media? Mr. Murray touched on this when he referred to US figures indicating that US media markets will imminently go purely to the streaming services. Is there is a future for us in that context?
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
I spoke to Mr. Farrell about this prior to the meeting. We did some internal research in respect of streaming versus linear. The point in respect of traditional television - that suddenly everybody is watching Netflix or Disney Plus and nobody is watching television - simply is not true. The TV Audience Measurement, TAM, Ireland data for 2021 indicates that approximately 2.7 billion hours of traditional television were consumed in Ireland, 300 million hours of Netflix were consumed and approximately 101 million hours of Disney. We need to provide that context because it is also important from a commercial point of view in terms of the fact that what traditional television and on demand offer is mass simultaneous reach that one does not get through a streaming service but-----
Notwithstanding that, we are discussing the future of the media sector. I genuinely want RTÉ, the State broadcaster, to survive, but Dee Forbes previously said at this committee that the funding model was broken. In his opening statement, Mr. Lynch said there is not a sustainable future for RTÉ. That is stark language.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
If one looks at the percentages, every percentage point of avoidance or evasion by non-television homes costs RTÉ approximately €1.8 million. That gives a sense of the scale of the losses. I fully accept this is a difficult political problem to solve but many other countries, such as Germany and Scandinavian countries, have solved it. The Future of Media Commission report looked at all the different models and made a particular recommendation which the Government did not accept, as is its right. As I said, however, the Government accepted the diagnosis, that is-----
Does Mr. Coveney believe we are at odds with the marketplace? Mr. Farrell mentioned where the US media is going. Are we at odds with the marketplace? If the marketplace is moving to a space where consumers just accessing what they want to access, and that is a political problem, as Mr. Coveney said, will the Exchequer ultimately have to intervene? Mr. Coveney did not want to use the word "bail-out". I do not want to use that word either because there is a value to what we are getting from our public service broadcasters. In effect, however, will we have to bail out the public sector broadcasters or go down the route of charging every single house, regardless of whether it has a television set?
Mr. Rory Coveney:
It is inappropriate to use the word "bail-out" because this is about funding public services that are not necessarily sustainable commercially. To take two of our radio stations as an example, Raidió na Gaeltachta and Lyric FM do not have big enough audiences to sustain themselves through advertising. Whole swathes of content we broadcast which, as Mr. Lynch said, caters for minority interests does not pay for itself in terms of commercial return. That is why the funding model exists. These are public goods, or merit goods, as the Future of Media Commission report identified them as, which are worth sustaining.
The commission stated that RTÉ should have €288 million funding last year and €293 million this year. As a traditional step, €15 million was made available to address the recommendations of the commission on funding for RTÉ. How far did that go in bridging the gap or what was required?
Mr. Rory Coveney:
The difficulty is that one of two things needs to happen. Either our remit needs to be reduced or the funding needs to be raised to meet the remit that exists. The Future of Media Commission report and successive Governments have been clear that there is no appetite to reduce our remit or to take significant swathes of our responsibilities off us and thereby make us smaller. Nor is there any public appetite for that among the public. The public is routinely consulted on this. We do it all the time. The Future of Media Commission report did its own assessment and the BAI does it routinely. There is no appetite for us to be asked to do significantly less. In fact, it is quite the reverse most of the time. There is a mismatch, frankly. I do not have the answer as to how this is resolved. This is a matter of public policy and it is within the gift of the Government to set up a collection mechanism that sustains what we are obliged to do.
My next question is for Mr. Farrell and Ms Ní Chaoindealbháin. Virgin Media Television does not have the comfort of public funding from the licence fee. Its analysis is of a changing marketplace where people may be migrating. It depends on advertisers. In terms of assessing its future, is it the case that Virgin Media Television, as a private enterprise, will be seeking investment from the State to ensure the public content aspect it produces is retained?
Ms ?ine N? Chaoindealbh?in:
There is no doubt that in recent years we have seen a sea change and have had to diversify where we invest to try to grab the audience. Mr. Farrell referred to the additional 33 channels that have come in the past ten years.
Each one of those channels that joins us is a threat to our revenue expectation and, therefore, we have to adjust to fit our budgets. We do an awful lot of public service broadcasting per hour out of our studios, from “Ireland AM” first thing in the morning right through to “The Tonight Show”, with the news and "The Six O'Clock Show" in between.
We rely on funding and are grateful for the funding we get from Sound and Vision and section 481. Key to our continued success at the moment is the investment and collaboration we do with international partners as well. We rely on that and would continue to rely on funding for content creation. Naturally, if there was more available to us as a public service media, we would welcome it.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
The only point I would add to that is that in the past five years, we have gone from two stations to six stations. Our player has grown probably 10% year-on-year and our costs have stayed flat. There is a reality, as the Senator knows from the newspaper world as much as anything else, in that businesses and technology allow organisations to manage their costs better and partner and work with people differently to support the needs of their business. Probably one of the frustrations is - back to the transparency accountability of public funds - that if there is a better approach to how that is driven and shared and challenged or allocated, there is then an opportunity for everybody to do better.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
Only on the basis that it is, again, an appropriate service that delivers something that fits a public remit. We are regulated and have obligations under our licence. We respect them and, as Ms Ní Chaoindealbháin said, we deliver probably more hours of local broadcasting per day than we ever have. We have people on the road all over the country every morning covering local issues and all of that stuff. We treat that as very important.
Those are the areas that have grown for us consistently. All our own programming over the past two years has grown audience. On the Senator’s point about opportunity, we have had our best year ever with the adults aged 15 to 44 share in the market. There is an opportunity still to grow if you overlay that with the video-digital area Mr. Coveney and Mr. Lynch mentioned. While they are not getting licence fee from that money, that VOD revenue is growing again because there are more people driving an area that is growing digital revenues for broadcasters. We have to look at it in terms of being quite creative and innovative, as well as looking for the challenge.
On whether there was funding, we partner with Sound and Vision and Screen Ireland. We have had some amazing, successful products. We talked earlier about “Blood”, of which there are two seasons that are distributed in 52 countries. It was filmed in Ireland with Irish talent and was supported by Screen Ireland. "Holding" was a partnership with Screen Ireland and ITV as part of €8 million revenue to produce content in Cork. We are absolutely supportive of any initiative where we contribute and deliver value, rather than just looking for a handout. Sound and Vision is a great example of that. We have had conversations with the BAI and the Department. We see Sound and Vision as a worthwhile initiative. Many of formats have come out of that. Particularly, “Eating with the Enemy” is now taken up in Turkey, Lithuania, France and Belgium, for example. There are great opportunities. As a broadcaster, if we are getting funding, it is to do something for the greater good, not to make-----
That is true. Getting back to the kernel of this, and the same applies to the newspaper industry, ultimately, the question is whether entities should be allowed to fail if they are commercial entities, regardless of whether they are providing a news service. You would think the Taoiseach has changed his tune but, previously, when he was speaking about the newspaper industry, he was not prepared to look at direct Government subvention to save it. Equally, we are discussing the future of visual broadcasting here today. If Virgin Media were in financial difficulty, should it be allowed to fail, as a commercial entity, regardless of whether it is providing news content?
Mr. Paul Farrell:
I would see it in the context of what our remit is. We are a commercial broadcaster and we have to sustain ourselves commercially. We can fulfil a public remit, which we do within our licence under the news obligation, and there is funding to make that better or to enable us to do a better service in terms of representing the news agenda and societal public broadcasting better. Associated funding that is transparent, contested and accountable would help us all.
I welcome everyone to the committee. I will start with RTÉ representatives. Looking through their opening statement, they said they had delivered 42 hours of premium Irish dramas last year. Was that a typo, by any chance? It seems to be the bare minimum. Is that correct?
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
No. That was talking about international drama. Regarding its in-house production, RTÉ delivers more than 3,000 hours of original drama, premium documentary, children’s programming and programming in the Irish language every year. Outside of RTÉ, we then commission 500, and the 42-----
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
For example, you are looking at about 3,500 original hours, plus working with partners in the room, such as Screen Ireland and the BAI. For example, we are producing “Kin” and “Smother”, which is sold in 160 different countries. Going back to Senator Cassells's point on what it is that public media actually pays for, in news and current affairs alone, on television we output 1,000 hours a year and radio would be a multiple of that.
That is fair enough. I just thought it was quite strange when I looked at it.
Back in November, the Minister said that RTÉ was carrying out a review of the pay grades, which was to be completed by June of this year. Is it still committed to that timeline?
Can Mr. Lynch confirm whether or not that review into pay grades would include the disparity of pay between workers working through the Irish language in Raidió na Gaeltachta and those who work through the English language in radio stations?
One would imagine a public service broadcaster that is publicly funded could not have discrimination or pay disparity within its own workers who work either through the media of English or Irish. That is good to have that confirmed.
In her statement, Ms Craig talked about multi-annual funding arrangements, but she did not say what they were. Could she outline those for us?
If I am correct, TG4 is looking for between €9 million and €10 million per year over the next four years. How will not getting that funding affect TG4’s production sector goals to make sure that the Irish language public service is to the fore in modern-day Ireland? How will that lack of funding hamper all of TG4’s goals as such?
The representatives from the Community Television Association outlined the importance of community television to local communities and the inclusion and diversity that it brings to them and all of that. They gave us their list of asks. My perception is that they got the bothered ear off the BAI. The BAI stated it was very supportive of CTA and community radio, and I am sure Mr. Murray and Ms Bowell are glad to hear that. However, in a practical sense, whether it is funding and other measures to ensure that they are able to deliver the way they want to deliver to communities, would they agree with BAI in that sense that they welcome the support but the actual practical and financial support is not being delivered thus far?
Ms Celene Craig:
I am happy to clarify what we mean by a multi-annual funding model. In order for public service media or, indeed, even anybody producing public service content, there is a need to have strong sense of security of what that funding stream will be like over a future number of years. We would ask that it is for, at a minimum, three years.
When plans are being developed and concepts for new forms of content, whether that is drama or a series of children's programmes, there must be an ability to plan and involve those creative concepts over a number of years. It is very difficult to plan when one does not know what funding will be available year on year.
When we make recommendations concerning future funding, and in the past it has been our tradition to look forward five years into the future, we do it on the basis of the broadcaster's strategy. It is good practice to have a strategic approach to how one sees public service content and the service that one will offer audiences. It is important that each of the broadcasters has a strategic sense of how that is going to evolve over the next number of years. However, in order to give effect to those strategies, there must be some certainty around funding streams otherwise broadcasters will find themselves making decisions year on year which is not conducive to good, creative programme planning and implementation.
Multi-annual funding is very important from two other perspectives. One is looking at the capital investment that might be required to support new types of development, particularly digital developments. There is a need to be able to anticipate and plan for the type of digital developments that might be required in order to support the service that is being offered to audiences. Finally, multi-annual funding allows an overall accountability framework for how broadcasters perform year on year. Over a period, it gives a broader framework within which to plan but it also gives a broader framework in which we, for example, as a regulator, can assess the extent to which the broadcaster has performed, and the way it has delivered on its public funding commitments and programming objectives.
My colleague, Mr. Liam Boyle, will address the specific question about funding for TG4.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
On the multi-annual nature and why it is important for RTÉ, all of our significant investments are over numbers of years. Whether it is a decision to go into a sports rights partnership with Virgin concerning the Six Nations tournament or a capital plan to upgrade our player, these things take years. That is the first thing concerning planning in a multi-annual way. We make very big financial commitments over many years at a point in time, potentially for two or three years or five years in some cases for some of the sports rights, for example. Not knowing how much money we will have in the future makes that much more difficult.
Another issue, which has been talked about significantly in the Future of Media Commission's report, is independence from the political system and everything. Multi-annual funding commitments give us a certain insulation to do what we are supposed to do and to maintain, particularly our editorial independence around some of the choices we need to make and should make independently of this place or anywhere else, or any other interests for that matter. Some security around being able to plan is absolutely essential.
Mr. Liam Boyle:
I thank the Deputy for her question. To be honest, her question is probably more for Mr. Esslemont to explain in more detail how a lack of realisation of TG4's strategy would impact on services but the question does flow into the point about multi-annual funding as well. Two of the key points that were raised in our own submission to the Future of Media Commission, around public service content, were certainty of funding and certainty of access. If you do not have certainty of funding then you are not able to realise your strategies. What we have seen over the past five-year period, with both RTÉ and TG4, is that their costed strategies, which we analysed as part of our five-year reviews, were not able to be realised, and probably in year two of their strategies, because of a lack of certainty in funding and because the funding recommendations, which were put forward by the BAI, were not realised. We end up in a scenario where the broadcasters are wedded to a strategy that they cannot realise and it becomes a very difficult process to reconcile that lack of cumulative structural funding with realising what you want to do in terms of services. As I said, it is probably for Mr. Esslemont to speak about TG4's plans and how they would affect TG4's scale in terms of services and the delivery of services.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
At the point of Covid we realised that this country was at a crossroads linguistically. The choice was to continue down the slope towards a monolingual State or say, "No, things have not been done correctly in the past." There are examples in Wales and in the Basque country where the state sees the need of pulling bilingualism forward. All of the Irish language media have a key role to play as a support for the Irish language, especially in this modern world. Our question is as follows: Why, when you can see that there is a thriving bilingual community in Wales, does their media have twice the resources than that of the Irish language media in Ireland, particularly when, in Ireland, the Irish language is the first language?
Over the next three or four years we will have what we call the TG4 post-Covid vision. There is a short version and a 26-page version, which we have made available. It is key that we get up to at least the same level as S4C in Wales. I believe that when we reach that level, and we have talked about “An Cailín Ciúin”, you will see a flowering in Irish language creativity that will then have huge knock-on benefits for society and will drive the Irish language forward. If we stay as we are then we will go down a slope towards monolingualism and this is a call from TG4 to say, "No, we have to change this".
Ms Emma Bowell:
The question was whether we agreed with the statement made about BAI support. Certainly, we do agree. We have a good working relationship with the BAI both through sound and vision programming, and the sectoral development fund. We often use the analogy of an airport to describe the situation. We have been able to access sound and vision funding and good programmes have been made but that is a bit like funding the planes in the sky but there is nothing to fund the airport itself. sound and vision is a competitive funding round and we seek annual guaranteed funding. There is a lot of competition for the licence fee but the 1% that we ask for would give us those core costs and enable us to have that guaranteed annual income, which is what we need to develop. We feel that we fit into the whole picture because when people engage in community television they are not just watching television in a passive way. They are actively participating in the making of those programmes and can see themselves on local television. They see local stories and local news, which enhances the whole culture of television watching. We are also developing players and video on-demand services. If people get involved, media literacy is a huge part of what we do. With every programme people get involved in we teach them about media literacy and how programmes are made so they then become much more aware of content and where content comes from. They are much more in tune with whether programmes come from the States or other streaming services. We have our part in the media landscape. We feel that if we were adequately funded with some guaranteed funding then we can continue that relationship with the BAI. We are very happy to collaborate with the other players here in the room and we feel we have a part to play.
I thank all of the witnesses and wish them a happy new year.
I shall start with TG4. Mr. Esslemont, in his statement, mentioned the areas of " language corpus management, language acquisition management and language status management" in conjunction with the capability of the language shift. Will he elaborate on that? Can he outline how much he thinks TG4 has been underfunded? He called for a comprehensive review. What are the crucial points that should be included in a review?
I understand that the Future of Media Commission recommended that RTÉ invest in innovation. What ideas has RTÉ had on that? What examples does it have in that regard? What steps has it taken to reduce its financial deficit and to stabilise expenditure? On a more elaborate note, what changes, if any, are needed or would it recommend to the defamation legislation? How does RTÉ increase its accountability and transparency?
As for Screen Ireland, "The Banshees of Inisherin" and "An Cailín Ciúin" are brilliant productions. I understand that the former got eight Golden Globe nominations, three of which were successful. The following really bothers me sometimes. It has been brought up before. Screen Ireland talks about its funding for intellectual property to be developed. How important is that? In the past we had great animations produced and they wound up with Netflix and other companies, which have made a fortune out of them, while the people who actually produced them basically got tuppence or nothing. Maybe Screen Ireland could expand on its international opportunities. How are local funding and Screen Ireland's partnerships working? Does Screen Ireland think that is the model to go forward?
Virgin Media talks about setting up a single digital platform. How does it see that working, and who is responsible for the governance of it?
As for community television, I agree with a lot of the points Ms Bowell put forward. The simple things like getting included in Saorview should definitely be included. The 1% of the fee should be considered, and the journalism bursary should definitely include community television.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
The present Government and Minister, to be fair, have taken on board the fact that although Irish is the first language of Ireland, it is actually a minority language, and most minority languages basically shift away towards the majority and die. That is of huge importance for Ireland. In the same way that there is science for the pandemic and science for climate action, there is also science for language shift. We can fight against language shift based on strategy and on three pillars. One is corpus management. Corpus management is about having the words, that is, having dictionaries online, being able to go on your phone and type up texts in Irish easily - all of that. That is really important. Corpus management is massively important. Acquisition management is about how you can learn Irish. The best way to learn Irish is at home, so there is a huge emphasis on helping people raise their kids through Irish. Then there is the ability to go to school through Irish, and that is really important. It has been shown in lots of countries that language-medium education is really important. The second bit is learning the language. The third pillar is status management. Being the first language is important, being in law is important and being up on signs is important, but being in the media is probably, in the modern world, the most important thing.
TG4 will come forward this year with plans for a learning hub and new ways for people to help teachers teach Irish, etc. TG4 is key to this going forward, but we need the resources our peers in Europe have. That is the post-Covid plan. It is to get up to that point. Those are key structures and key strategies. In the same way we became aware of how to manage the pandemic and are aware of how we want to manage climate, we need to be aware of how we need to manage the Irish language in Ireland. I believe that TG4 is key to that.
If I may come in on intellectual property, we have been working with RTÉ and lots of other bodies. It is really important that, whatever we do in investment, Irish intellectual property grows. We are therefore working not just with a group of producers but also with the various crafts in audiovisual to try to push that forward. Ms Finnegan knows a lot more than me about this.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
To respond to the question about innovation, first, capital spending over the past decade has been very restrained. We have not been able to invest in digital transformation as much as we would have liked to do. It goes back to the point Ms Craig made about multi-annual funding and having a strategy over five years that we will execute. For us, it is about building a robust digital product portfolio. That includes RTÉ Player, audio streaming and text-based products. For example, about 450,000 devices per week access our news app. It is highly used and highly trusted. We have introduced video there as well as a lot of innovations within how we communicate our journalism: long reads, graphics and so on. On the player side, a lot of the innovation is back-end. The innovations are things one would not see. For example, the World Cup was a turning moment for the player because we had 8.5 million streams, massive levels of streaming, so about 30% of the World Cup was consumed through our player. That is a significant amount of video consumption. Everything that allows that to happen is about content delivery networks, edge-cache routing and a bunch of things the audience never sees. When it comes to innovation, for us, having stability of funding and knowing where we are over the next five years is absolutely critical.
Deputy Mythen also asked a question about deficits, I think. We had a strategy between 2020 and 2024 which contained cost-avoidance measures of about €60 million and about €93 million was delivered. Commercial income performed more robustly than we had expected.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
If I may briefly add to the innovation question, some of the innovation we are doing is with others. We have developed with the GAA over recent years the GAAGO service, a TV service focusing largely on international audiences, but the new deal will focus increasingly on the domestic audience also. This is in over-the-top Internet television service. We have done the same with the United Rugby Championship, URC, and the domestic rugby competition. These are new initiatives. They are working with partners in a different way. Even some of the sports rights partnerships we have done are also new for us in seeking to share with some of our partners here in order to deliver to ensure that key events in Ireland remain free to air. Looking all over the world, so many of these sporting events are now behind paywalls, particularly in the UK. There has been a huge drop-off in access to mainstream sports for all audiences. They have all moved behind paywalls. In Ireland I think we have been successful. This is not just about RTÉ; it is a story that all the free-to-air broadcasters have been part of in ensuring that key sporting and cultural events remain accessible. That is innovative in an international context.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
Screen Ireland's view is that there is a very fine and an important balance in respect of international productions coming in, the large studios and the opportunities that are provided when those productions film in Ireland or choose Ireland as a destination for production. However, the priority is around the longer term goal for the industry and, as Mr. Esslemont mentioned, supporting and empowering the independent production sector to develop Irish IP, to produce it and to distribute it around the world. For example, we recently expanded our development unit within Screen Ireland to make sure we are, as much as we possibly can, funding Irish creatives, whether through producers and production companies or through our launch of a few schemes through the pandemic that we have been continuing. I refer to programmes like Spotlight, whereby we support Irish writers to develop their own IP and to come in with scripts or screenplays. We also did a programme called the Voice, which was for directors. They could independently develop a piece of work and then take it forward to the next stage of development. We feel it is essential to strengthen the position of the Irish producer and production company in protecting and retaining rights as much as possible.
In recent amendments to the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, which were brought in just before the end of the year, due regard was included in respect of the retention of rights and intellectual property. It is really important to maintain sustainable funding for the domestic local sector to ensure those opportunities and make sure that as much financing as possible can be raised within the domestic market so when those producers or production companies go out to leverage other financing, they are in a stronger position.
Ms ?ine N? Chaoindealbh?in:
To be honest, a lot of that has to be worked through. We saw what was happening with the audience and the audience shift in the last number of years so we, as a single entity, have invested heavily from a capital expenditure and operating expense perspective to be everywhere, whether that is a connected TV, various platforms, or Internet protocol television, IPTV. That is as a single entity which is always investing. As Ms Bowell referenced, as a group, all of us have all the content and the fund, yet there is no platform where people can access it. We have to look at where the audience is going. They are looking at apps, that is where they are sourcing it. Our belief is that a single app that provides content, whether that is the archive from Screen Ireland, content through sound and vision funding or TG4 and Virgin Media Television - one source and one location. On funding, because we are talking about commercial broadcasters and Government-funded projects, through the licence fee, there would have to be a steering committee. We will have to work through the process on how we do that and how any revenue attained from that app would be distributed thereafter and how the development would be. Naturally, we have all learned from the developments we have made to create apps how to do it better and who the key strategic partners are to enable that. We will be able to do that once we have time together to work through it. We have had initial conversations in the past about this and there is support for it.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
On the governance aspect, it would be a joint venture model, as already exists in France and Switzerland. There is a platform called "Salto" in France, where all the broadcasters come together. It was created by a third party and they run it as a joint venture. Back to all the conversations we are having about commercial viability and equally discovery and prominence, there is one conversation with Google, LG, Samsung, Roku and Rakuten etc. Currently there should be eight or ten conversations and each conversation comes with a bill of X and a revenue share of Y. If this happens in one conversation with all the platforms then, from a regulatory point of view, there is an opportunity to say that you must carry Eirview, or whatever it is, and then, as was said, archive content and community content all has a place. You go on to your Netflix screen, you see one way in. The beauty of it is existing players feed into that, so there is no extra technical development for the broadcaster, it is just how the technology presents itself and then the discovery and prominence aspect is resolved. We have been talking about it for quite a while. It is up and running in a number of countries, which have seen the benefit of it. It is something we should look for.
Ms ?ine N? Chaoindealbh?in:
There is an opportunity in the longer term because we are all getting rights and new rights to be able to cater for IPTV, etc. If, going forward, we look at global rights, that would mean we could look at the diaspora we talk about. We would have a location for people to get their nuacht as Gaeilge, their news and the various content of interest.
Mr. Ciaran Murray:
The Future of Media Commission has a lot about community media and the kind of funding that could be supported there. To see a community media fund set up, one way we feel it could be future-proofed and sustainable is to link it to a percentage of the television licence fee, which would be the community media fund. It is not wildly unrealistic. We are very aware in community media that you also have to operate a social enterprise model. We also understand that we get funding through European moneys and European projects. As Ms Bowell said, with one foot in the community and voluntary sector and the community education sector, we are also able to draw on funds from Pobal and places like that, which other places do not. It is also grounded in reality. I thank our colleagues in Virgin Media Television for the support they have given us and to the BAI over the years also. Gabhaim mo bhuíochas le TG4 as an jab iontach a dhéanann sé chomh maith.
I mentioned earlier that Community Television Association can look at models that are not commercially viable and still make sure they can be funded. We ran a series with the sadly now defunct Comhluadar about people raising their children through Irish outside Gaeltacht areas, as far afield as Cabra and Longford. There is a place and there is other material. It is fairly standard stuff. You see it across European countries, as Mr Craig knows well. I was the president of Community Media Forum Europe. If you look at, for example, what they have done in Austria with a similar legislative framework to us, you will see they have done a lot. You will see that community television in Vienna, Okto Community TV, is number eight on the channels. Even in Belfast, NVTV is number seven when you flick through the channel listings. There is a space and this can be done. We tend to look to the UK for historic, cultural and linguistic reasons but we need to look beyond that at what has been done in countries with similar populations such as, for example, the Austrian and Danish models. In Norway there is community television for the whole country; the country has a broad landscape and does not have the population density of other places. There are models out there we can look to which can show a really viable and vibrant community television sector.
Mr. Liam Boyle:
It goes back to Senator Warfield's point on the DTT as well. We are just about to start an evaluation of the existing services as part of the licensing process pursuant to section 72 of the Act. We are looking at qualitative and quantitative measures and connections with audiences. We just started that work this week. We are looking to do this later this year, working alongside Mr. Murray and Ms Bowell. Part of that work is connections with audiences. It is all part of the mix of where audiences are going. With community, as Mr. Murray said, social benefit is also a key point that we will be looking at measuring. We developed a framework at the BAI over the past few years and will also be applying that to the community television sector in looking at how the sector can be sustainable over the new few years.
Ms Stephanie Comey:
I want to link the two points Deputies Mythen and Munster made around multi-annual funding and the sustainability of the community media sector. We have talked extensively about the possibility of multi-annual funding from a sectoral learning and development perspective for the Community Television Association in terms of building strategies and action plans that can be implemented over several years. The BAI will not be able to do this because the lights are about to be turned off but when Coimisiún na Meán comes into play these are conversations we hope to take up at that stage.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
The reform that could work and could generate far in excess of the increased revenues RTÉ needs to sustain itself is the tackling of the licence fee system. Issues like this then become eminently sustainable and there is a logic to them being supported. There is absolute logic for community television to be supported in a structural way. That is what I mean about the opportunity that is being lost every year at the moment with the licence fee system the way it is. There is an opportunity to go far beyond our needs into all of the recommendations in the reports and for them to be funded in a sustainable way. The licence fee system is not just about us; a whole ecosystem could be supported in a more sustainable way if the system is grappled with.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
I will make a brief point on the reach to better audiences and the Irish diaspora. Last year, Screen Ireland launched a digital search tool on a US trade mission with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, called wheretowatchIreland.com. It is for audiences around the world who might have interest in Irish content to go into that site. If they wanted to see "An Cailín Ciúin", for example, and they were in New York, they could search and it would take them directly to show times in that locations. It is a helpful tool for searching. It will help us on the back end. Hopefully, we can see some strong data analytics coming from that with which we can assess where Irish content is most popular around the world, maybe where it is not playing as much, and maybe make some informed insights and decisions on the back of that.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
On the diaspora, all of TG4's commissioned content is available worldwide. That means, for instance, if one is Australia or wherever. Cinema is slightly different. From day one, we have been able to serve the diaspora that way.
Since the start of the year, we have also tried to serve, especially the USA, in a linear way. From 2 a.m. onwards, we have started to repeat our schedule. One could be sitting in Boston and turn on TG4 and get a full linear service. We are proud of that. It is something, working with the independent sector, on which we were able to agree that we had worldwide rights for commissioned content. That is at the core of TG4's DNA.
Thank you so much.
We come now to my speaking slot and my opportunity to ask a few questions. This is not a movie review forum, but I just want to point out that I thought "An Cailín Ciúin" was a far superior movie to "The Banshees of Inisherin". These are the two movies that are constantly being referenced here. I will get into trouble, if I go any further. We will have that debate in private, maybe later.
Rather than asking a question at the start, I would like to make a comment in relation to the licence fee, licence collection and the funding mechanism. There is a missed opportunity here. It is a great shame that, once again, the can is being kicked down the road because in the end everyone will be losers unless we address this. We have talked here a lot about sustainability. From many, particularly the television stations, we have heard some really good figures in terms of the player in terms of different programmes and different items on the different television stations but we have also heard some serious concerns about sustainability of public broadcasting. It is a difficult issue, politically. It is a tough one to grab by the neck and deal with, but we have to deal with it because, from what I am hearing here in the feedback from different witnesses' statements and answers to questions, it is not only those who benefit from public funding who will lose out. It will also impact those who do not benefit from public funding. We need to tackle that. When we were discussing the Future of Media Commission, we spent, I would imagine, the majority of the time dealing with that very issue - the licence fee and funding - and it is the one issue that we did not deal with when it came to it. I wanted to make that broad point at the start.
I suppose most questions have been asked, but I have questions for the television station representatives here - RTÉ, TG4, community television and Virgin Media. Most have a healthy social media following, particularly on Instagram. RTÉ and the Virgin Media have staggering figures when it comes to Instagram following, etc. Is there a way or have they found a way to monetise that? Is it possible? Are the numbers of visitors to their social media big enough to be able to monetise that because individuals have successfully monetised social media where they have a big following? As I said, in the stations' cases, the figures are really healthy. Is monetising something that they can do or is it something that would be only a sticking plaster in terms of revenue income?
Mr. Rory Coveney:
I will speak and Mr. Lynch will probably want to jump in.
There are two things for us. In terms of our news content, it is largely about reach and relevance. For us, it is about being in people's lives and our news and our journalism being accessible and accessed by all demographics. It is not so much about making money. Frankly, it is about maximising reach and relevance and connection with all audiences, and particularly younger audiences. We know we have a job to do with younger audiences in gaining their attention and their trust.
During the World Cup-----
Mr. Rory Coveney:
To be honest, increasingly the consumption is happening there. It is not necessarily about bringing them back anywhere. It is about the consumption happening and it is about creating formats and shorter form video formats, etc., where the consumption of our core journalism happens on multiple platforms across the day now as well as on our long-form platforms, such as our television channels and player.
Commercially, there are some opportunities. I will not get into the specifics of it. With one social media platform, we had a commercial deal around short-form content around the World Cup which was the beginning of something interesting around sport. It is early days. In reality, the returns on cost per mille, CPM, rates on social platforms are tiny in comparison to broadcast audiences. It will not butter the parsnips, so to speak.
Does Mr. Lynch want to add something?
Mr. Paul Farrell:
It is a challenge. As Mr. Coveney said, we put a lot of effort into social media as an amplification and growth opportunity for audiences and new audiences. Equally, we found it as a platform to try to build new content solutions. For example, the group chat product that is now on television started off as a podcast, then went to a vodcast and then went to television. We find it is a good way to explore and try to bring, as Mr. Coveney said, younger audiences and new audiences into content.
Similar to what Mr. Coveney said on sport, in particular, we found some opportunities to monetise it. They are relatively limited but there is a way to do it. The challenge for us goes back to regulation and guidelines. If one looks at how most people made money out of social media, it is the influencers and how they have almost contrived a model to endorse and support products and get paid for that without any real clear guidelines that they are selling, endorsing or promoting something. There are opportunities for us in terms of the content we create in that shorter form to have some commercial relationship with parties, as Mr. Coveney said, with those such as Twitter seeing the benefit of what we bring with that content and what that drives in the overall model. It is evolving a bit like Google, in how it changed its attitude to newspapers. Some of the social media platforms are starting to see broader benefits but it is slow. It is a lot of work for a relatively modest effort but it is a place one has to be, particularly if one is to engage with younger audiences.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
It is a core part. As Mr. Farrell and Mr. Coveney said, it is about reaching audiences, especially young audiences. Our video views in 2021 numbered 58 million. In 2022, they numbered 132 million. In a way, we understand that lots of young people are not engaging with linear media but it is a way of keeping them connected to TG4 until they feel that they want to see a little bit more of that.
We have a personality that is not po-faced. We have fun in TG4. Through Twitter, we were able to put forward our own personality in a way that connects with the politician and connects with young people. It is part of what we do, but I believe that life is linear and there will always be a space for linear media. It just means we have to do linear media plus. I think we are all doing that.
Ms Celene Craig:
The broadcasters have addressed this challenge of trying to grow the audience, particularly bringing it on board and providing access for younger audiences to new forms of digital content. It speaks strongly to the point that was being raised earlier that it underscores the importance of multi-annual funding in order to allow time for these new ideas to be tested out and exploring new forms of funding that will over time, one hopes, grow and replace, or at least try to equate with, the kind of revenue from traditional linear broadcasting. In innovating, there is a cost in exploring new ideas and developing new thinking, exploring new aspects of technology and trying to build the audience around that.
It really does underscore the need for certainty in multi-annual funding, which would allow us to think over several years and to plan and implement new ideas and innovative forms of content over time.
Perfect. I thank Ms Craig. My last question is to Screen Ireland. "Holding", a Graham Norton show filmed down in my dad's birthplace of Drimoleague, was mentioned with regard to regional uplift. It is my understanding that County Limerick was able to avail of the regional uplift but that Cork was not. Am I right in saying that?
That is something that needs to be rectified because, while I am sorry for being parochial, the opportunities for production in west Cork are fantastic. Ms Finnegan mentioned "Holding" but "The Sparrow" and many other fantastic productions were also made down there. I have a follow-up question on that note. It is something I have raised with Screen Ireland before. Screen Ireland funds individual productions, which is fantastic. I have seen the credit list of productions it has funded over its time and what it has been involved in is unbelievably impressive. There is something I would like to see and I wonder if it could be explored. I refer to investment in and funding for smaller studios. I use the example of West Cork Film Studios. It has just received planning permission to convert a big furniture unit into a film studio. The studio is actively bidding on productions and for bigger companies to come and film there. It has the locations from Kinsale in the east all the way across to the Beara Peninsula. There are incredible locations. We have seen that in various productions. It also has the talent by the way. It has the set designers, the make-up artists and the location managers. They are all based down there in west Cork because it is obviously such a wonderful place to live. The company now has the studio but it needs to get up and running and off the ground. It does not want to go down the road of private investment. It would like to keep it almost as a community-led and community-driven film and television studio. Is that something that Screen Ireland could look at again? Could it look at financial support not just for individual productions but for smaller-scale film and television studios?
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
There is absolutely a very talented film-making community in Cork. We were down on that set and there is a really strong community there. We will do everything we can to support its growth. With regard to infrastructure and studio facilities, we work to support all the elements around that. I refer particularly to things like skills in the area to make sure that we are supporting studios. However, there are limitations on our funding with regard to direct investment in facilities. We will look into it a little bit further and see what else we can do to provide support but we very much welcome those kinds of facilities being converted, giving more opportunities to bring productions to the regions, as we were talking about earlier.
Mr. Andrew Byrne:
To refer to investing in the independent production sector more broadly, this year and last year, we actively invested in independent production companies' creative capability. This year, we will put €3.5 million into building out development teams and so on with regard to concept development, intellectual property development and so on. We are working around these areas with a view to building and developing the industry more broadly.
It is important that we do because a relatively small investment could make the difference in getting those productions to places like west Cork. I do not have to mention the added economic value they would bring. Did Mr. Esslemont want to come in?
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
One of the problems with the regional uplift is the current state aid map of Ireland. It is very complicated. That is one of the problems we have to try to solve. The regions are not clear and certain places are bypassed. If we are to get support for regional productions, a hybrid approach will probably be needed. An uplift is a strong possibility but, coming the other way, the ability to grant aid to certain productions wherever they are in Ireland is also a good thing. There are conversations to be had over the coming months.
I absolutely agree. The regional uplift must continue because we have seen what it has done for places like Limerick and for studios in those areas but Cork has missed out and I cannot get my ahead around why it was overlooked on the original maps.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
An awful lot of the focus is on servicing big American companies coming in with big brands but it is really important that we grow the sector and that we scale up our own indigenous companies. Again, we have to work that out. We need something that is attractive for the big American companies coming in but that will also give a basis for indigenous companies.
I will turn my attention to community television. I wholeheartedly support this sector. Where I come from, Navan, we were very lucky to have a community television station for a long time, as naturally befits Navan's status. We had Navan Television which subsequently became Province 5 Television and was run by Kevin Mac Namidhe. I want to give him particular mention because the programming that he conducted was absolutely magnificent. In my first election in 1999, some 24 years ago, I was able to watch the first couple of counts live at home before I went to the count centre. The channel had conducted TV interviews with all of the candidates in the local election. It is quite significant. I therefore know the value of what it did in broadcasting things that no one else would touch at local level. Over the last three decades, we have seen the importance and value of local radio, which is very significant in this country. There is an equal appetite for community and local television stations. With regard to the Community Television Association's ask, the 1% and so forth, would that be a case of just maintaining services? Ms Bowell mentioned growing. What is the potential for growth? We do not have that community television station any more. What is the potential for growth beyond where the association is at the moment?
Ms Emma Bowell:
We believe there is great potential for growth. There was a lot of interest when we first started meeting with what was then the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, to look at the whole policy in respect of community television. There was interest from Galway and Kerry. We also have members based in Leitrim. People are interested in this all around the country. It is much more technically feasible now. When we first started, it was very expensive to get good broadcast quality cameras. As we all know, with phones and 4K technology, it is now much more feasible for people to create content, which we then curate. We believe there is certainly scope for growth. In Cork Community Television, where I am, we have covered local elections from City Hall along with other civic events like Culture Night, Heritage Week and the St. Patrick's Day Festival locally. We are able to cover the full events rather than just small snippets. Another example is the Lord Mayor's community and voluntary awards. We have been able to cover all of these kinds of civic events over the years. We believe there is room for this. Another thing that was mentioned in the Report of the Future of Media Commission is the idea of community media hubs. This is something we have now set up in Cork. We believe there is scope for this across the country. On the one hand, we are looking for financial support but, at the same time, there is an incredibly vibrant community and voluntary sector all over the country. A lot of the infrastructure is already there and some of the technical costs are actually decreasing. That is to be welcomed.
Mr. Ciaran Murray:
On those three centres of community television, Dublin, Cork and Navan, which the Senator mentioned, Navan was a kind of stronghold for us and it was a great loss for us that the station ultimately lost its licence. As it stands, there are licences for Cork and Dublin but that is not really how we view ourselves. We see community media as something that should be available and accessible to everyone in the country. As Ms Bowell said, we work with people all over the country. The Travellers in Tipperary may make something for community television in Cork or Dublin. We do not see it as an issue for Dublin or Cork.
I do not know if the licence would ultimately go back to Navan per se. There is a strong set-up in places like Donegal as well in that some of the tradition is already there. We see that as part of the development in the future.
I support the call in respect of the bursary that exists within community radio. We have seen young journalists and graduates get opportunities for training in real-life situations, which are becoming fewer and fewer in number from two decades ago. I support anything that aids that.
I have just one final question to Virgin and RTÉ. I commend them on working on the collaboration that took place on the sports partnership for the Six Nations. We are under threat across a whole range of areas in respect of pay-per-view television, so to see two domestic stations working together to secure that is to be welcomed. Going back to the viability of the stations, I wish to ask Mr. Farrell about other areas of collaboration that could be pushed for. He has spoken previously about picking up the phone to Dee Forbes and starting that conversation. Are there other areas where he thinks the two stations could potentially work together?
Mr. Paul Farrell:
There definitely are. During Covid, we had a lot of collaboration on simple things such as camera crews going to do news from a safety perspective in the midst of the pandemic. That has efficiencies down the line. Equally, with studio resources and so on, there is a lot of opportunity to collaborate, and we are all making big investments physically. As Ms Ní Chaoindealbháin knows better than I do, the operation of a TV station is a multimillion-euro investment every year just to keep up to pace with technology and requirements. That is one area where there is obvious opportunity in respect of the infrastructure, collaboration on studio work and so on.
The bigger area involves the things we have talked about here, that is, the distribution opportunity, how we can come together instead of each of us spending millions each year on an app or a player, and talking to platforms and saying, "This is an Irish public service - do you want to look into getting a single voice and a single route to Irish audiences?", initially locally and then, as Ms Ní Chaoindealbháin said, globally. There are loads of opportunities for collaboration. We talked about this outside in the broader sense. The example of "Holding" involves collaboration through to our relationship with ITV in the UK, then looking to do something in Ireland. There are so many conversations going on that we could bring this together, a bit like how one incentivises people appropriately to get them to use other parts of the country, not just the main parts of Dublin. Collaboration is the only way forward for the sector.
May I ask Mr. Lynch and Mr. Coveney a question? I have an interest in sport. I remember the League of Ireland coverage and RTÉ being very frank in saying that for what it costs to cover games it could just put on a repeat of a film and get ten times the number of viewers. Is that an area for working in collaboration as well across sporting with, potentially, Virgin or others as well?
Mr. Rory Coveney:
-----on both the GAA and, more recently, the URC tournament, ensuring that every weekend all Irish audiences can access the matches free to air in Ireland, which is great.
As for the cost of sports production, a bit like Ms Bowell said about the cost of production generally, there are all sorts of opportunities to reduce the costs of covering all sorts of sports: the camera equipment, how stuff is edited, self-editing and then the distribution back to studio or back to distribution. I think there will be, as the coming years unfold, substantially more sport available for audiences because of the drop in costs of production, particularly on location. There are all sorts of new enabling technologies now. There are definitely opportunities for us, TG4 and Virgin to work together more on big sporting events in particular. We are inundated now. One need only look at Amazon's entry into the autumn internationals. There is a whole range of these players revving up now, everyone seeing the value of live sport as a key audience draw. These people have very big pockets, so the more we can work together to ensure that this stuff remains free the better.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
On another point, there is collaboration on the content side, which many of the people here today already do. Also, when it comes to the new media commission and policy on prominence, Mr. Farrell from Virgin Media brought up earlier the fact that the way in which audiences consume public media has transformed significantly, as we know, over the past five years. We are about to go through another huge change in respect of the fact that there are more sophisticated connected televisions and other devices and major tech companies now that will, potentially, under the legislation, carry free-to-air channels to Irish homes and audiences and so on. That is a massive shift from a prominence point of view. These platforms, for example, apply algorithms to make recommendations as to what the viewer should watch next. If you think about it, in the old world there was the electronic programming guide and prominence was guaranteed to RTÉ, TG4 and TV3 through channels 101, 102, 103 and 104. That will now all be algorithmically run by gatekeepers. The question therefore is, as technology moves on, how we guarantee that public service media will be discoverable by Irish audiences. It is one thing fixing the broader funding question; then we have to think about the audience and how we deliver to them. That is a massive challenge, particularly for the broadcasters in the room, but it applies to audio and to community television as well. That is one of the big strategic things we as a group need to take up.
I thank the witnesses for their responses. I should have said at the beginning, not to be negative, that we were disappointed that before Christmas, when we had asked RTÉ, Virgin and the BAI to come before the committee to discuss policy, both Virgin and RTÉ declined that invitation, yet the BAI was prepared to come in to discuss policy. We represent the taxpayer, and the taxpayer pays the licence fee. I felt that both organisations should have come in to discuss the matter when-----
Yes, which comes under the remit of this Oireachtas committee. I just wanted to make that point.
I wish to make a few points about Virgin. Mr. Farrell mentioned six channels. Is six channels too many to be putting out?
As for Screen Ireland, the Cathaoirleach mentioned certain areas of the country. It was brought to my attention that if a company looking to make a production within this country produces it in Roscommon, it is entitled to 10% or, I think, up to €200,000 in funding, but if it produces it in Longford, where I come from, it does not get that. There needs to be balance. The Chair mentioned balance in Limerick and funding not being available in a neighbouring county. Screen Ireland might expand on that.
As for the technical working group, and as the Chair stated, the can has been kicked down the road again with regard to the licence fee. I believe there should be a fee on every single household because every household consumes content. As I said, it should be available to all organisations. I know that the organisations represented today have fed into the Future of Media Commission. Have they got an opportunity to feed into the working group? To ask maybe a broader question, who is the technical working group? I have not seen the list of whom it consists of to know who is actually making these decisions. Have all the organisations, including RTÉ and Virgin, got a chance to feed into the technical working group?
To follow up on what Senator Cassells said, I am from a very strong sporting background. The way forward is for both RTÉ and Virgin to come together, going after all these competitions and making sure we have them on our televisions. There was a solution in, I think, Virgin's submission, which stated that in France the three broadcasters came together and created a shared platform. Is that the way to go? Sorry - that was a heap of questions.
There were a lot of questions. I lost track of whom they were directed to. The witnesses will have to remember themselves, if that is okay. Mr. Farrell, you certainly were the first of a few.
Mr. Paul Farrell:
Yes. I will respond to the three questions that touch on us, if that is okay.
On the four to six channels, our model is pretty black-and-white. If they do not pay for themselves, they will not exist. The other side of that, to touch on the Senator's last point about sport and the League of Ireland question Senator Cassells asked, I think there are opportunities. We had a conversation with the FAI a couple of years ago and we proposed an idea. As Mr. Coveney and Mr. Lynch said, the production cost of good-quality sport is quite high, but the opportunity, particularly for the League of Ireland, is to get more people to be able to see the product because the product is really good. It has got better every year. The teams are getting stronger. There is talent coming through. Particularly at underage level, it is very strong. Our suggestion was that the model be flipped on its head and that we say, "You go out to get a set of advertisers, you bring the product to us and we broadcast it for free or at cost." You are getting almost like the old Olympics model or the Champions League model and what Croke Park or the GAA did around the championship. There are anchored sponsors that get free advertising across all the product on TV.
There are clever ways to start looking at how you do this. We could not afford to put it out on a commercial model. We could pay to put it out on a cost-neutral model with the FAI then generating income from advertisers, sponsors and supporters. There are lots of opportunities to look at that differently and equally, in the world of TG4 and RTÉ where there is a lot of content that is going unbroadcast because so many rights sit with the GAA, LGFA and so on, and even some of the great stuff in basketball and some of the fringe sports. Just giving them an audience and a window is what is important for communities and to get kids more active and participating. There are many routes for that to be done more cleverly. It might be a trade-off or looking differently at how we collaborate and what we offer, particularly to commercial partners that the organisations can bring in to help fund their offering. That is an area that is ripe for development.
On the platform question, it is the way forward. We have to get our heads around how we do it together.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
Mr. Esslemont made a point earlier on benchmarking public service media funding here against the UK and EU. Take what Mr. Farrell was talking about with that French streaming service, Salto. I will give an idea of the scale of the challenge. France Télévisions which is the public service media company in France has funding of €3 billion. It is not like it is running 20 stations; it is running a similar portfolio to RTÉ with €3 billion. It teamed up with T1 and M6 to launch Salto. I just read yesterday that they are looking at having to dissolve it because they feel they cannot compete against international streamers. That gives a sense of the kind of scale of the challenge that we face.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
We continue to take people at face value that they are actually looking at that because we do not have any choice. We are being told by the Department, the Minister and the Government in general that they are looking at coming up with a set of reforms that will improve the collection system. The technical group is being led by our Department and is multidepartmental so that Justice and Finance etc. are represented at official level. We have fed in our thoughts on the options in detail. We talk to them far too frequently about moving on this. Unfortunately, it is the usually the first and last item of our discussions with the Department and we speak to them all the time. The single biggest strategic question facing RTÉ in terms of its future is some sort of resolution to this question. It is not for want of trying or asking but ultimately we cannot fix the TV licence system. We have lots of ideas about how to fix it but ultimately it has to be actioned by the Minister and the Government.
I echo the Chair's praise of some of the social media, and specifically mention TG4's Twitter account. I think it is meán sóisialta is fearr i bhfad for communicating some of the messages. The fact that everyone in here notices it is testament to the success of the account. When the Chair praised the small studio in west Cork, and he was beginning to sound like he was auditioning for a part, I was conscious that the largest film and television content-creation studio is about to be built in north Wexford. It will attract both domestic and international production. I am sure that Mr. Farrell can speak on the quality of life in north Wexford too. It is an ideal location to come to and film.
Much of the discussion we have had involves the broader question of public sector broadcasting and communications and media in our democracy and about the democratic values and their importance. Even though we are critical at times, we are very lucky that we have, for the most part, a free, fair and balanced media in this country. It is the media's role to hold us to account and equally it is our job to question and hold it to account, particularly those in receipt of public funding. We need to broaden that debate. It is about more than just the licence fee in RTÉ. It is around our democracy and those underpinning values, particularly in the new digital world because this is Hamlet without the prince. The digital players are not here at this discussion. We had a similar discussion when we were talking with print media and local and community radio prior to Christmas. We need to broaden that discussion. I put the challenge to broadcasters and those on the editorial side - and we are not trying to tell them editorially what to do - but that broader debate needs to happen.
I agree on the point about collaborating on distribution opportunities, certainly with regard to prominence. Those are crucial questions. This comes to the role of the regulator, which people may want to comment on, which I am confident will be the most powerful regulator in the State given the extent of responsibilities that are there. Ms Craig and Ms Comey may want to answer this. One is a very specific question around funding and the content levy we were talking about applying on streamers. We had talked about the streamers coming in. Even in the recommendations that were made today, I am aware that one of the new commissioner's first tasks will be to look specifically at how a content levy might operate. We need to get that in place as quickly as possible. It may be possible to provide an update on that from the commission's perspective. The other element which the committee was concerned about was that the commission is sufficiently resourced and staffed to be able to oversee, regulate and manage everything that is going on in the sector. This is not the BAI merging into coimisiún na meán. In terms of staff numbers, it will be ten times and more the size of what was there before with a lot of specialisations. Will the commission be able to open out all the issues? Are our guests confident that now it is effectively up and running, it will be able to get the staff at a sufficient levels, that we have confidence that it is acting as the regulator to address this? Are there any problems foreseen on the HR side? Ms Craig and Ms Comey may want to come in on those specific matters but we do need to talk about the broader democracy question.
Ms Celene Craig:
The BAI would wholly support the Senator's points on the importance of public service media and public service content in supporting good, robust democratic discourse. I believe, and the authority believes, that we are very well served in the Irish context. At European level, we hear very many struggles and difficulties being experienced so I believe that we are very well served here. All these things speak to the importance of ensuring the future sustainability of our public service media organisations. I would also stress that the BAI would like to see the commission embrace it fully as part of its remit. The OSMR Act is a very wide-reaching piece of legislation but it also reflects those current and fundamental values that are underpinned already within the Broadcasting Act 2009. I would be hopeful that those principles will continue to be embraced in the future regulatory environment.
On the specific questions around the commission, it is not yet operational. The BAI continues in existence until such time as the Minister establishes the commission. Obviously, a very important first step has occurred in the appointment of the commission that will drive the roll-out and operationalisation of its functions under the new legislation. Out of respect and deference to my future colleagues, I would not like to pre-empt anything that the commission may decide.
I would, however, be surprised if the broad ambition is not to continue and try to build further on the structure, the infrastructure and the quality public service content that is made available by Irish audiences. That is evident and reflected in the legislation. The ambition is there in the legislation. One key piece will be deciding priorities. An coimisiún will have a wide range of functions. One of its first tasks will be to look at its priorities, particularly in trying to secure a strong base for its future operations. As the Senator pointed out, resources will be fundamental to ensuring the future success of an coimisiún. The BAI, which I represent today, has consistently made that point. The officials in the Department have been working strongly over the course of the past year to try to secure the right level of resources. The commissioners are now in place. The BAI has been supporting the recruitment process for some staff in the first phase for the corporate spine of an coimisiún. That phase is being put in train as we speak. I hope we will have a secure and strong base. BAI would strongly support the idea that a very wide, and much expanded, range of human resources will be required to support what is an ambitious and welcome piece of legislation.
That will involve a general scoping exercise, given the range of responsibilities that are being assigned to coimisiún na meán. Has Ms Craig an estimate for the number of staff that will be required? I get the point about prioritisation but there are a number of clear priorities contained within the legislation. How quickly will it need to scale up and to what sort of numbers?
Ms Celene Craig:
A more detailed exercise is likely to be undertaken by the commission. The Department has done an initial scoping exercise in this regard, looking at a whole range of topics, including the online safety elements of the legislation and the need for a strong corporate spine. It is also actively examining the resources that would be required to fulfil and implement the recommendations of the Future of Media Commission. It is also the BAI's understanding that our colleagues in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are also looking at what the resourcing requirements will be to give effect to the Digital Services Act. As the Senator knows, it is expected that the digital services co-ordinator will be located within an coimisiún. I saw last week that the Department has been leading in that regard by advertising the role of the digital services commissioner. There are many different facets to a successful implementation of the legislation, and each of those areas needs to be resourced very strongly. The BAI would be anxious to ensure there are sufficient resources. The BAI's current resources will be targeted towards ensuring a smooth transition of the BAI's functions and good continuity in all respects to support all of the activities and functions that BAI has had responsibility for up to now.
Ms Celene Craig:
That will be a matter for an coimisiún to decide as part of its priorities. We in BAI would be well aware of how keen people in the industry are to see progress being made in that regard. As I said, there is a wide range of functions involved and it will be a matter for an coimisiún, as a collective, to make a decision around where that features. People are strongly aware of how keen the sector is, particularly representatives from the independent production sector. The BAI is well aware of how keen they are to see work in that area progressed.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
The Senator raised a question about broader democracy. He may have noticed that we were clear in our submission that broadcasting is a cental part of our future. There is a reason for that. Broadcasting has enormous societal benefits that are baked into the public service objectives on which we are to deliver. There is the idea of many people consuming the same thing at once, whether it is a sporting event, a news event, a tragic event or a national commemoration. The concept of a media that actively seeks to bring people together as opposed to a media ecosystem which does the reverse, which can be seen in many other markets, has all sorts of consequences for the democratic system in which we all live. Broadcasting and live delivery of content, whether it is over IP or broadcasting networks, is going to be central to RTÉ's future. Even as we migrate to a fully IP infrastructure over the coming decade, live broadcasting on radio and television will continue to be essential to the whole purpose of public broadcasting without RTÉ just becoming a public service publisher pursuing a Netflix-type model. Such a model would lose many of the benefits related to mass consumption at the same time. We would not get 440,000 people listening to "Morning Ireland" or 420,000 people watching "RTÉ News: Six One". Those figures are astonishing when one thinks about all the sources of news that exist on any given day that people can access on their phones and everything else. Thankfully, we still have moments in Ireland where we come together to try to understand the world together. That is key to RTÉ's progress.
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
I will add to that to underscore the importance of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill for preserving European cultural diversity, including the European works quota that will exist and the prominence requirements therein. I would echo the comments that have been made. The amendments that include areas such as the development of content are welcomed by Screen Ireland. Intellectual property protection and considerations around the role of the independent Irish producer also feel important and will make a big difference to the sector.
Ms Emma Bowell:
On the question about democracy, we feel we can play a role. We do not currently have a studio space but if we did, we would be keen to have discussions at a local level with communities on a whole range of issues. We have all seen some of the stuff that has been going on, much of which is generated by ignorance. There is considerable scope for those kinds of discussions and we want to play a role in that regard.
Sinn Féin is very much of the view that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill should have clearly stated what the content levy would look like. If it had, perhaps we would be hearing that it would be the number one priority for the media commission. Our guests know the importance of that and I respect that. Sinn Féin brought forward an amendment to the Bill in the Seanad that sought the inclusion of Screen Ireland. That was eventually accepted by the Government very late in the day. Many people worked on that issue. Is Screen Ireland looking ahead to the content levy and its involvement therein? What role will Screen Ireland have in respect of the content levy?
Ms D?sir?e Finnegan:
We are looking forward to collaborating with the BAI and coimisiún na meán when it comes into existence and adding any expertise or help we can in terms of our knowledge of the sector and particularly in the areas of those amendments I mentioned. Areas such as development feel key to the earlier question about how we can help to empower Irish storytelling and the retention of rights. Anywhere we can add our expertise or support, we are looking forward to doing so.
Ms Celene Craig:
The BAI and Screen Ireland have a good and constructive relationship. These are all matters of common interest. There are other areas around sustainability and training and development about which we remain in touch on a frequent basis. The BAI is certainly happy to explore issues around the implementation of the scheme. We have plans to do that early in the new year.
I asked about the comprehensive review for which TG4 has called. What are the crucial points that TG4 would like to be included in that review?
How can RTÉ increase its accountability and transparency?
Pobal funding was mentioned. The problem with Pobal funding is that it is not guaranteed or sustainable. Pobal has a budget every year, so TG4 cannot be sure what will come from it. As such, the 1% is crucial to the organisation.
Mr. Alan Esslemont:
The key wording is "recommendations for improving the provision of Irish language services". The Future of Media Commission recognised that Irish language services in the media were not at a proper level. There is much to be done. TG4 has laid out a vision of benchmarking ourselves against European television broadcasters like S4C and EITB.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of Raidió na Gaeltachta and it is surprising that there is still only one Irish language radio station in that portfolio. Irish language speakers are no different from English language ones. There are differences in demographics, and there is a need to reflect those demographics. For that to happen, State investment is needed. The State has a choice between continuing down the path of monolingualism and grabbing the bull by the horns and creating a bilingual society. The media is core to that.
Mr. Adrian Lynch:
On transparency, we publish our annual accounts. We have also created a new online portal where we have broken everything down into graphics so that people can see exactly what part is the licence fee, what part is commercial and what the number of hours of output are. As a body in receipt of public moneys, we engage with NewERA and the Department. We are constantly reporting on how money is spent – we are transparent about that. All of the details of how every cent is spent are provided online.
Ms Celene Craig:
The BAI's annual reviews of performance in public funding are public documents once they have been presented to the Minister and the Minister has presented them to the Dáil. Our annual and five-year reviews provide considerable insights into the performance over time of the public service broadcasters relative to the public commitments they make annually. Our reviews also give extensive commentary, not just one the financial aspects of that performance, but also the audience performance and the use of public funding. The BAI draws on all of that material when making recommendations on the level of public funding. In addition to the material that Mr. Lynch referenced, the BAI's reports are extensive and provide a great deal of insight on and transparency of the use of public funding.
Mr. Ciaran Murray:
I will make a general point. Forgive my naivety, as it is probably more than ten years since I last attended one of these meetings, but we made a submission when Mr. Pat Rabbitte was the Minister. This dates back to the water rates phase, which was stinging for people who stood for election. We proposed that there could be a small decrease in the television licence fee alongside the household charge, as mentioned by Deputy Carty. This would have incentivised the 16% of no-television households to believe in a public service charge. A large campaign could have been run to incentivise the people who did not pay the licence fee to believe that Irish language broadcasting was an integral part of our identity, democracy and culture. This would not have been as divisive as the water charges. However, nothing has changed in the years since we wrote that submission when Mr. Rabbitte was Minister and the matter is still a sensitive one. Forgive my naivety for raising it in this manner, but it seems that it is still there to be addressed.
The public service charge was mentioned. I work with An Post, which is a collector of the licence fee. Some of the witnesses are not in favour of that. If a charge was payable by every household, it would be easier to collect the fee and the figures would change dramatically. People would not have an issue paying the charge if its funding was available across all sectors – regional newspapers, RTÉ, Virgin Media, local radio stations, etc. – because people would then get good, wide and varied content in return and they would be supporting local as well as national media.
Mr. Coveney stated that the percentage of people watching "Six One" was quite high. That is brilliant to hear. When I look at the RTÉ news, I know it is factually correct, unlike other sources.
Mr. Rory Coveney:
On news numbers, we saw a significant rise in younger audiences during Covid. I am sure Mr. Farrell saw the same. Many of those audiences had moved away to digital platforms completely, but we saw them returning in droves. I do not know the current figures, but the audiences have ebbed away a little again as life has somewhat returned to normal. It surprises me that, given all of the devices available to people to find out what is happening, they still tune in in large numbers to mainstream bulletins on RTÉ television, Virgin Media and radio.
We will wrap it up there. I thank members for their questions at today's session. I also thank the witnesses. This has been a marathon session. I have learned a great deal, as have other members. The information provided has been good feedback, and it is important that we and the public hear that feedback about the success stories of the many productions and items that the witnesses discussed in terms of viewership and so on as well as the feedback about the obvious challenges to broadcasting's future sustainability. It was interesting. I assume that what we heard at this meeting will be included in a committee report, which I hope will yield results down the line. I thank the witnesses for attending.