Saturday 17 November 2018

RTE Two viewer numbers slump to record lows

Semi-state broadcaster loses 20pc in a year

CHOICE: Do young viewers want Damo or Game of Thrones?
CHOICE: Do young viewers want Damo or Game of Thrones?

Sarah Stack

RTE Two lost a fifth of its audience last year as the download generation tuned out of the channel and turned digital.

The struggling youth station - which gets €35.62 from every television licence in the country last year - saw its market share of evening peak-time viewing plummet to less than 8pc of the potential audience or just 106,000 viewers. The decline is unprecedented. Numbers have slumped 30pc in the decade.

RTE Two's average all-day viewing figures also dropped from an average 53,100 a month in 2012 to just 40,600 a month. That's 7.2pc of potential viewers. It had a 12.4pc share in 2003. The ratings crisis is the latest blow to RTE One's sister channel, which has undergone several revamps and name changes in its 36 years.

A new controller is attempting to tackle its identity crisis. As recently as February, RTE advertised for a design guru to rebrand its TV stations ahead of UTV's arrival in the market.

Another 3,000 are believed to have switched off this year before the World Cup kicked off in June to boost ratings. Industry insiders said the station needs more home-grown content aimed at its target age group who can watch 700 other channels or download, including from RTE Player.

"RTE's audience is a young audience and they are turning away from linear TV, which is sitting down in front of the television and watching it," says Gareth Fitzpatrick, broadcast director of Mediabrands Ireland. "With broadband and Wi-Fi connections improving around the country, people have been downloading more. A lot of RTE Two's schedule is made up of US dramas, like Homeland, Revenge and Grey's Anatomy, which are available more or less the day after they are aired in the US."

RTE defended its rating, arguing its target 15 to 34-year-old age group has remained steady.

"It is true that younger adult viewers are watching on other platforms as well as the normal TV set, however RTE are best placed to pick up this viewing as we are the biggest multi-platform broadcaster in this market," says a spokeswoman for the channel.

Content is available on a range of platforms and devices and the challenge for them, and broadcasters worldwide, is to measure it, she added.

RTE Two's coverage of national and international sports - GAA, Six Nations, and soccer - has been its main crowd-puller in the past, but the GAA's deal with Sky Sports could be another major blow to the station. Its youngest viewers are being shared with RTEjr, but some areas have seen recent success.

Homemade comedy programmes such as Damo and Ivor (watched by 250,000), The Republic of Telly, The Mario Rosenstock Show and Foul Play are "all doing well" on TV and RTE Player.

"In terms of RTE Two, there has been a major refocus on the channel with a channel controller, Bill Malone, appointed for the first time last year to create a clearer identity for the channel," adds the spokeswoman.

"Since last September there has been a renewed focus on home-produced programming, targeting our key demographic of 15-34s and in fact 2014 is actually shaping up to be a good year for RTE Two."

More than 4.1m of us watched TV last year, with RTE One holding almost 27pc of peak-time viewing and airing 19 of the top 20 shows. The channel even recorded its first profit in six years.

"Love/Hate was a big success and RTE One is also very clear, its news, current affairs, opinion, both on television and radio. If you are watching or listening you know what you are going to get," says Orlaith Blaney, head of McCannBlue advertising agency and president of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners.

"But if you ask people what they watch on RTE Two they're not clear. One of the biggest challenges is to make it clear to consumers what RTE Two stands for. They have Republic of Telly and some strong comedy, which is an important genre, but is it enough in the world where we have House of Cards and Game of Thrones as choices?"

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