We're zapping miserable RTE and switching to its happy rival
Gavin Duffy is glued to TV3's unpredictable ratings-winners and believes the media should be more upbeat
Following a week of boosted audience figures for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Coronation Street, this was a bumper weekend for TV3. Tonight the Irish audience for The X Factor final will probably top one million and tomorrow night possibly three-quarters of a million of us will watch Niamh McDonald and Michelle Massey battle it out to become Bill Cullen's new apprentice.
At a time when RTE is providing excellent, in-depth coverage of our nation's economic woes how come TV3 is drawing such large audiences? When you have a choice between, say, a trade union leader like Jack O'Connor condemning for the thousandth time the bank bailout and you have Apprentice finalist Michelle Massey confessing about her teenage involvement with Playboy TV, sorry Jack, Michelle wins hands down in the ratings war.
It is wrong to say people are only watching TV3 in record numbers as some form of escapism from the current valley of tears that is Ireland. Yes that is part of it but there is another factor at play here. These TV3 shows offer suspense, whereas the RTE economics coverage is predictable. We know the trade unionists are going say tax the rich, the Ibec spokesperson will defend the €1 cut to the minimum wage, Labour will promise to never cut social welfare, Fine Gael will claim they can work with Labour's diametrically opposite policies, and Fianna Fail will say Brian Cowen is the man to lead them into the election.
Over on TV3 it is all far less predictable. When I conducted my job interview with Michelle Massey I can assure you I never expected her to reveal her teenage dalliance with Playboy. It is the unexpected that keeps people watching these types of programmes. This year's candidates are the weakest bunch I have interviewed so far in the three series. Yet the numbers viewing this season are up by more than 20 per cent.
RTE's schedules lack the good, old-fashioned suspense that is on offer at TV3. Last weekend all of us were worried for our darling, Mary Byrne, on The X Factor but we didn't know whether she'd go or not until the very last moment. Again tonight the million of us watching won't know the winner of The X Factor until the very last moment.
After my interview with her, Michelle Massey said to her colleagues: "That's it, I won't be getting the job." More suspense! However, she is in the final and could win. Again, we will all be on tenterhooks until the very end at 10.12pm tomorrow.
RTE has become far too predictable because the big story, the persistent bad news about our economy is far too predictable and repetitious. Further, we are beyond shock at this stage anyway.
RTE radio is the same. Recently on Morning Ireland the presenter said the following, "After the break RTE's business correspondent will take us through the 38 pages of fine print in the IMF document." Could you think of a bigger turn-off as we were all trying to get to work or get the kids to school whilst battling through snow and ice? Because of the snow I was giving a lift to three passengers who all simultaneously shouted 'turn it off', in rather colourful language.
We switched over to Gift Grub on Today FM and had a laugh. We are not philistines. We are not people who don't care about our country's economic woes but we don't need to hear about it 24 hours a day.
But RTE will fight back in the New Year. It will broadcast the mother of all reality TV shows. It will be dripping with suspense, and RTE will do it marvellously. It is called the General Election 2011.
Following the election the new Government will have a mandate and so then RTE and the Irish media must accept its job is not to deepen, widen and prolong the recession with never-ending negativity. The media must play its part in helping our nation on the road to recovery.