Saturday 21 April 2018

RTE boss wielding the axe in bid to weather economic storm

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

AS in many industries, it was a case of battening down the hatches for many parts of the media and marketing industry, as companies tried to weather the storm that has swept through the Irish economy in the last four years.

For advertisers, the need for return on investment has become more important than ever before.

As one ad man told 'PostScript' early in the year, "a few years ago a client could approach us and we could more or less take a campaign off the shelf and hand it to them, and they'd put down whatever fee we were asking for. Now it's the opposite."

There were some firms that continued to spend serious capital on marketing, with the mobile phone companies and supermarket retailers still prominent in print, TV, radio and the online spaces.

Beyond the 'old reliables' though, there were few sectors that could maintain perpetual campaigns in 2011.

The rise of digital advertising continued at a pace in 2011, growing 20.5pc year on year between January and June.

Despite the steady growth in online, however, newspapers still remain the favoured form of advertising ahead of TV. Digital has, however, overtaken radio, magazines and outdoor, to move into third position.

If 2010 was the year the app became the 'must have' for any advertising campaign, 2011 was the year it became accepted wisdom that a QR code would be essential for any large scale campaign in print or online.

The QR code, which directs a user to the advertiser's website or provides product information when scanned by a Smartphone, became so ubiquitous that it seemed to cross the line from being a 'nice thing to have with a campaign' to an essential piece of an integrated operation.

There was little in the way of corporate activity in the marketing space during the year, although there was a notable deal in the last month of 2011 when Core Media agreed to pay €3m to buy the Dublin based Mediaworks.

When Core chief executive Alan Cox hailed the deal, and his firm's success as "an important indicator following a difficult and well publicised number of years for the advertising and media industry", few would have disagreed with him.

Away from the advertising sector, it was a mixed year in the media business, with RTE's new director general Noel Curran hitting the headlines throughout the year.

Mr Curran formally took over the national broadcaster in February and immediately set about reshaping it to deal with the new financial realities it is facing.

RTE announced plans to reduce its 2008 staff levels by around 300 and launched a voluntary redundancy programme to help cut costs.

Pay cuts for most of the public service broadcaster's (PSB) top 'talent' would follow, he said, but it became clear quite quickly that he would face opposition in this task.

In a speech at Dublin City University in October, he spelled out for the first time that RTE would lose some of its best known stars if they didn't agree to the 30pc reductions

"We may during this process of renegotiation lose some of our most talented and loved presenters to our competitors," he said.

"That would be very regrettable, but if some choose to leave, we will adjust, find new voices and new ways to deliver services and programmes."

The message was clear -- nobody was indispensable and RTE would be willing to move on if the price was not right.

Understandably, the pay cuts hit the headlines, but from the licence payers' point of view, perhaps the most significant event came last month, when the broadcaster refused to rule out charging for access for domestic users to live events online in the future.

That would be a significant departure from the traditional 'free' model employed up to now by PSBs, such as BBC and RTE, and would be sure to face vocal opposition.

RTE's fundraising methods hit the headlines repeatedly during 2011, especially in early October, when TV3 claimed victory after a ruling by the Competition Authority on a dispute between RTE and TV3 over advertising sales.

The independent broadcaster's chief executive David McRedmond has had a tempestuous relationship with RTE, but he was in Montrose in May for the launch of Saorview, the new 'freeview' digital television service.

The success of Saorview, which will replace the old aerials found on over 600,000 homes by the end of 2012, will be critical to the future of TV in Ireland.

With the downturn showing no sign of turning however, it will be interesting to see how many people end up not buying the required equipment by the end of the year.

Next year promises much in media and marketing, but it could take away much as well. What will happen is anyone's guess.

Indo Business

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