In a statement Screen Producers Ireland has welcomed the announcement from RTÉ of a strategy to address its financial difficulties, and to refocus the organisation to take on the changing media landscape.

However, SPI is concerned at the absence of specifics in the plan in relation to commissioning of content from the independent production sector other than a reference to increasing the hours of Irish drama. 

The stated intention to enhance RTÉ’s digital services reflects the obvious need to adapt to the changing needs of Irish audiences and in particular younger audiences. However, there is once more a lack of specifics on what type and how such content will be commissioned and importantly the pricing and value related to digital content. The quality of content must be recognised and appropriately valued regardless of platform through which it is delivered. Already SPI members are producing content for RTÉ for significantly less than they were 10 years ago.

The number of hours of original Irish content that has been produced by Irish independent production companies over the last 11 years for RTÉ has halved, and this has had an impact on the sustainability and growth of the Irish independent production sector.

However, without action from Government no amount of reform will be enough to save RTÉ.

Government can take action. Norway recently decided to fund its public service broadcaster through a public service tax to ensure its sustainability and growth, while Swiss voters supported the survival of their PSB through a referendum. Reform can happen. It is not impossible.

The time has come for RTÉ to take more radical action too and to formally make the move to becoming a publisher / broadcaster.

Becoming a publisher / broadcaster would give RTÉ the flexibility to react faster to changes in the media landscape which it has not been able to do due to its historical organisational structure.

It would also allow the broadcaster to commission more cost-effective content. Currently In-house productions cost more than independent commissions, and this would create more savings for the broadcaster.  

The opportunity to do this is now.

RTÉ can signal this shift by increasing its spend on original Irish content from €40M to €80M from 2020.

The core requirement at the centre of RTÉ’s new strategy for its linear and non-linear channels is content. Content that excites audiences, that resonates with contemporary Ireland and draws younger audiences to the broadcaster.

The Irish independent production sector is uniquely established to fulfill this need for content. It is already producing some of the most watched shows on RTÉ like Coco Content-produced Room to Improve, Crossing the Line-produced The Game, Indie Pics-produced Ear to the Ground, ShinAwil-produced Dancing with the Stars, along with many, many others. This content is culturally relevant and loved by Irish audiences and beyond.

Not only does the independent production sector create content that audiences love but these companies create employment and provide skills development opportunities across the country with a growing focus on fostering developments in the regions. RTÉ has a commitment to having a presence in the regions and independent commissions fulfil this commitment.

It is time the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment,  and the Oireachtas stopped running away from TV Licence Fee reform and support RTÉ and the sustainability and growth of the Irish independent production sector.

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