Tuesday 23 January 2018

RTÉ blames €17m jump in its deficit on having to cover landmark events

1916 centenary, the Olympics and Euro 2016 behind increase in costs, insists broadcaster

Wes Hoolahan celebrates after scoring against Sweden at Euro 2016. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Wes Hoolahan celebrates after scoring against Sweden at Euro 2016. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Donal O'Donovan and Kirsty Blake Knox

RTÉ has blamed landmark, and largely foreseeable events, such as the 1916 commemorations and the Olympics for a €16.9m increase in their annual deficit.

New figures show the gulf between spending and income at the State-owned broadcaster ballooned to €19.7m last year, from €2.8m in 2015.

The broadcaster is planning to cut more than 200 jobs from next month as part of a 'voluntary exit programme' in a bid to bring its finances under control.

RTÉ will also unveil its restructuring plans to staff next month.

If the broadcaster continues to run deficits on the scale racked up in 2016, it will have spent the €107m windfall from the sale of its lands within six years.

In a statement, RTÉ said a cut in public funding in place since 2014 and extra costs linked to events including the 1916 centenary celebrations, the Olympics, the Euro 2016 tournament and the general election had resulted in the deficit.

RTÉ's coverage of these events - particularly the 1916 commemorations - was ambitious and well received.

Their staging of 'RTÉ Reflecting the Rising' on Easter Monday, for example, was the largest civic event in the history of the State and was attended by 750,000 people.

The average cost per hour broadcast was 11.5pc higher on RTÉ One last year compared with costs incurred in 2015.

Programming costs at other RTÉ stations rose at far lower rates.

However, the Annual Report and Group Consolidated Financial Statements published yesterday show operating costs in 2016 increased by €7m, excluding those special events.

In all, costs rose €23m to €343.4m.

Swamped

The rise in costs swamped a more modest rise in income that took total revenue to €327.3m.

Licence fee income was slightly higher in 2016 than the previous year, at €179.1m from €178.9m.

RTÉ's director general Dee Forbes said the impact of Brexit and license fee evasion rates had proven problematic.

"On the income side, we began to see the impact of Brexit at the back end of the year on advertising," she said. "We really had not expected it to be so severe. That really was an issue for us.

"You plan your year based on very reasonable assumptions on income around expenditure, but like I said the income didn't come in as expected," she said.

RTÉ's commercial revenue - including advertising - was €2.8m higher in 2016 than the previous year, totalling €158.2m. Last week, Ms Forbes argued the license fee should be increased to €175 in a Oireachtas Committee meeting.

"We are operating with €100m less in revenue since 2008 on an annual basis, yet we are still providing the nation with memorable moments," she told RTÉ's 'Drivetime'.

Earlier this year, RTÉ agreed a €107m deal to sell part of its hugely valuable Donnybrook campus to house builder Cairn Homes.

The scale of the financial overruns will inevitably raise questions about the salaries paid to RTÉ's big stars such as Ryan Tubridy and Ray D'Arcy.

Operating costs last year were 22pc lower than in 2008 - however, after a sharp decline in the wake of the financial crash, costs have risen every year since 2013.

In 2016, RTÉ's total staff numbers increased slightly to 1,984 including adding 43 extra full-time staff.

An RTÉ spokesperson said this was "attributable to a need to bring in new skill sets to RTÉ to continue to meet the changing needs of our audiences."

Irish Independent

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