Entertainment Television

Saturday 7 December 2019

Pat Stacey: Who is the Late Late Toy Show actually aimed at?

OPINION: The Late Late’s festive special has lost touch with its origins

Ryan Tubridy on the set of the Late Late Toy Show. Pic Steve Humphreys 29th November 2019.
Ryan Tubridy on the set of the Late Late Toy Show. Pic Steve Humphreys 29th November 2019.

Pat Stacey

Tomorrow is the biggest date in RTE’s calendar, bar none. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks, you’ll know it’s the night of The Late Late Toy Show.

It’s difficult not to be aware of it, to be honest. The hype — a fair portion of it generated by ordinary people on social media who’ve helped talk the show up as event TV — has been going on for weeks.

You can understand why The Toy Show is so important to RTE, especially this year, when the national broadcaster is facing the worst financial crisis in its history. It’s the only night of the year when it can charge advertisers astronomically high rates, way above what they’d pay at any other time.

According to Adworld.ie, RTE started taking bookings back in September. If an advertiser wants the so-called Platinum Package — which guarantees them the first spot in the first ad break of the show, including the Saturday afternoon repeat showing — they’ll have to pay €78,500. The next two down, the Gold and Premium packages, cost, respectively, €59,500 and €57,000.

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Ryan Tubridy. Photo: Andres Poveda
Ryan Tubridy. Photo: Andres Poveda

Ever wondered how those audience prizes that get tossed around like confetti during the show work? For a flat media fee of €10,000, clients are expected to give away 230 prizes worth a minimum of €150 each. In other words, RTE makes a profit of at least €24,000 on every transaction.

The collapse in advertising revenue that’s hit traditional media, including newspapers, is a major contributing factor (though far from the only one) to RTE’s ongoing financial woes.

But the broadcaster can afford to be confident that advertisers will be happy to pay these huge rates, if only for this one special night.

The clients know they’re guaranteed to reach the biggest domestic television audience of the year. Even members of the Irish diaspora will be watching on the RTE Player, which is never geo-blocked during The Toy Show.

Last year’s show was watched by a staggering 1.3 million on the Friday night, with another 200,000 viewers catching up with it over the weekend.

It’s an extraordinary evolution for something that began in 1975 as a half-hour item aimed at giving parents a few ideas about toys to buy their children for Christmas. The quaint assumption back then was the kiddies would already be tucked up in bed asleep by the time the show started.

The Toy Show was always enormously popular. I watched it as a child. My three daughters watched it too. But they’re grown women now (the “baby” of the family is 19) and the days when they snuggled up in their pyjamas to see if the toys Santa was bringing them for Christmas would make an appearance are long gone.

They have no interest in it any more. Which begs the question: who is The Toy Show actually aimed at?

It used to be a show about toys, with some ordinary kids demonstrating how they worked. Yes, there were always stage school-trained child performers (usually the Billie Barry Kids) and surprise guests, but the toys were the main thing. But it’s changed drastically, particularly since Ryan Tubridy, who’s on his 11th Toy Show, took over.

There’s a big opening musical number, which remains a closely guarded secret until the last moment.

It’s gradually turned into a cross between a song-and-dance spectacular and a junior X Factor. The young amateur performers, who are selected through auditions, are now more polished than the professionals. You get the impression some of them (and perhaps their parents) see a spot on show as a springboard to a show-business career.

Even the kids trying out the toys appear to have been chosen for their precociousness and big personalities. Meanwhile, the actual toys and toy demos seem to be occupying less and less time each year.

Some things have been lost amid all this slickness and professional polish: a sense of innocence, and a fair quantity of charm and real joy.

The Late Late Toy Show is on RTE One on Friday at 9.35pm


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