Sunday 22 September 2019

RTE to axe TV news channel as services hit by financial woes

Management to invest in digital news services after poor viewing figures

'RTE recorded a loss of €20m in 2016 and will record another sizeable loss for 2017.' (stock image)
'RTE recorded a loss of €20m in 2016 and will record another sizeable loss for 2017.' (stock image)

Samantha McCaughren, Business Editor

RTE is planning to close its 24-hour television news channel, RTE News Now, as the organisation seeks ways to cut costs amid continuing financial pressure.

It is understood that management sees the cost of the station, which runs into millions of euro, as unsustainable given viewer numbers are low - running at just a few thousand.

Instead, RTE insiders would rather see the money channelled into online news services - which are having a much greater impact with audiences at significantly lower costs.

However, it will need approval from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) before proceeding with the plan.

RTE recorded a loss of €20m in 2016 and will record another sizeable loss for 2017. While it has sold a large piece of its property for €107m, the proceeds will be used for its redundancy programme, capital investment and reorganisation of the business to ready it for the fast-changing digital market.

Advertising revenues at RTE remain under pressure and the broadcaster has long argued for a significant overhaul of the licence fee system.

The organisation has warned in the past that services could be hit if its funding is not addressed. A recent report on the licence fee recommended that Revenue collects the fee. It is the latest solution proposed for high evasion rates, which are estimated to cost the organisation up to €40m a year.

The broadcaster is examining ways of reducing overheads after running a redundancy and early retirement programme during the year. More than 200 applied for the scheme but numbers have fallen short of the organisation's goal of up 300 job cuts. It is reviewing its orchestras, which are part of its statutory remit.

RTE News Now, which launched in 2008, airs on Sky, Virgin and Saorview. However, RTE's audience is increasingly turning to digital channels for news and breaking stories.

A spokesman for RTE said: "RTE News has embarked on a 'digital first' strategy - and, as part of that, has previously confirmed that it is reviewing how best to deliver news content to audiences on traditional and new platforms within existing resources.

"All distribution channels, including the RTE News Now channel, are subject to review."

In an interview with the Sunday Independent last year, director general Dee Forbes said its services were strong but she would look at how they were being delivered.

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