Tuesday 22 October 2019

RTE records €13m loss in 2018, cites cost of covering Pope and World Cup

Eamon Dunphy, Damien Duff and presenter Darragh Maloney at RTE's World Cup launch. Photo: Donall Farmer
Eamon Dunphy, Damien Duff and presenter Darragh Maloney at RTE's World Cup launch. Photo: Donall Farmer

Shawn Pogatchnik

RTE recorded a net €13m loss last year, the state broadcaster reported Tuesday, citing the €7.2m costs of covering such special events as the papal visit, World Cup and presidential election.

Its annual report showed a modest underlying improvement in cash flow following the broadcaster's 2017 round of around 160 layoffs via voluntary retirement and redundancy, a process that cost €29.6m in 2017 and left RTE with an end-of-2018 payroll of 1,822, including 250 part-timers, down 8pc from 2016.

Operating costs in 2018 fell by €1.9 million to €332.6m, while revenue rose by €1.5 million to €339m, to give RTE a narrow underlying profit of €6.5m before exceptional items.

But RTE’s special events bill plus depreciation and amortisation write-offs left its net accounts in the red for the seventh time in the past 10 years. The only accounting consolation was RTE’s banking of a small tax credit versus 2017’s payment of €21.5m to Revenue.

RTE said financial conditions this year remain “very challenging, with inadequate levels of operational funding from both licence fee and commercial revenue to fund its obligations.”

Director-General Dee Forbes appealed for reforms to the licence fee, citing the high cost of collecting the annual bill from households and the relatively high rate of evasions versus European norms.

“We want to do more,” Forbes said. “We are full of programme ideas, but every day we have to curtail our own ambitions and the creative ambitions of the broader independent production sector due to our constrained resources. … However, it will not be possible for RTE to maintain and enhance what we do and fulfil our remit without action from Government and a solution to the funding of public service media in Ireland.”

The annual report contained no details of the salaries of individual staff. In December RTE reported that its top-paid employee in 2016 was Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy on €495,000. Ray D’Arcy was second on €450,000, Joe Duffy third on €389,988, and Sean O’Rourke fourth on €308,964.

RTE recorded a net profit in 2017 thanks only to its sale of an 8.64-acre site to Cairn Homes. The annual report said the sale gained RTE a net €99.5m profit because it accrued €10m in costs preparing the site for handover, including the relocation of the Fair City set and RTE’s creche and social club.

The land sale “provided resources to allow RTE to address its underinvestment in infrastructure and technology,” the annual report said. “It will not solve the requirement to increase investment in programming and content or fund operational deficits.”

The report said viewers’ ever-increasing use of video streaming alternatives, particularly Netflix, continued to undercut RTE’s ability to grow advertising revenue. Revenue from TV ads and sponsorships declined 1pc, while it rose on radio and online platforms by 5pc and 6pc, respectively.

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