RTÉ offers help to Irish newspapers

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IRISH national broadcaster RTÉ is planning to share video content with indigenous Irish newspapers and radio stations to bolster the domestic media in the face of an onslaught from global multi-nationals.

Kevin Bakhurst, pictured below, managing director of news and current affairs at RTÉ, said: “Part of our five-year strategy is playing a role in a vibrant national media market. We plan to offer Irish newspaper [and radio
station] websites some core video content to underpin Irish journalism across the piece.”

This core content could include video from Irish government press conferences and other major news events, Bakhurst said, and could be used for free and without attribution by the outlets concerned. Informal conversations had already taken place, he added.

Global players such as Sky were having a huge impact on Ireland, he said. Figures from 2011 (the latest available) showed Sky had taken £326 million out of a total of £751m of TV revenues. RTÉ took a £192m share of the same pot.

Bakhurst said: “There is an existential threat facing all mainstream national broadcasters, a toxic cocktail of falling revenues, changing patterns of consumption and an assault by huge multi-national broadcasters like Sky who are taking huge amounts out but investing very little back into production and content. There is a real challenge to the whole broadcasting eco-system and the provision of domestic content. The effect has been profound on RTÉ and TV3 [Ireland’s closest equivalent to STV] and regulators have been unable or unwilling to intervene. It’s a warning for Scotland: the big beasts are increasingly dominant in the multimedia jungle.”

Bakhurst said Scottish broadcasting was at a fork in the road and the result of the independence referendum in September 2014 would largely determine the future model. The UK government would most likely stick with a national public service broadcaster (BBC plus BBC Alba) in the event of a “no” vote, he said, while a “yes” would see the SNP government “create a Scottish broadcaster to fully cement Scotland’s identity and take power back to Edinburgh and Glasgow”.

On the question of a Scottish Six – a news programme covering a mixture of Scottish, UK and world events from a Scottish perspective – Bakhurst said: “I have long been convinced this is relatively straightforward in terms of distribution and production and there is an unanswerable reason for doing it.”

Bakhurst, who spent 23 years at the BBC before moving to Ireland last year, said the BBC’s UK-wide bulletin underlined this by often covering health, education and crime stories of no relevance to Scotland.

He felt RTÉ could be a model for Scotland as an independent public service broadcaster with close links to other public service stations including the BBC. There was a decision to be made on funding – would it be purely licence fee-based or would there be a household charge, or might it follow the RTÉ model of part licence-fee and part sponsorship/subscription? Would it have to purchase programmes from the BBC and ITV and if so, what would it pay? Would all the money go to the new broadcaster or would some go to STV?

Elizabeth Partyka, STV’S deputy director of channels, stressed that the broadcaster had no plans to charge for any of its content: “We will be free on air and online.” She said viewing figures for STV News were at a ten-year high and that the launch of Scotland Tonight had “over-delivered” and was defeating its competitors – and that 3.2 million unique browsers were looking at stv.tv every month.

With security of its two licences now guaranteed to 2024, Partyka said STV was concentrating on its strategy for growth, based on building engagement with consumers and connecting Scotland’s communities – and driving this by content and creativity. “The local TV licences for Edinburgh and Glasgow are an extension of this. It’s a new type of TV – a very localised mix of news, features and entertainment – but partnership with Edinburgh Napier and Glasgow Caledonian universities means we can also train the journalists and programme-makers of the future.”