RTÉ is stuck on repeat - give us original material
In the first week of June, Reeling in the Years was RTÉ's most popular TV show, capturing a huge audience share of 39 per cent. This was no surprise: the nostalgia-fest is exceedingly popular with audiences, frequently besting original material like Fair City and the Late Late.
However, the key point is that it's a repeat – Reeling in the Years originally aired back in 1999. And RTe is replete with repeats, especially at this time of year: today, for example, the schedules include reruns of Eastenders, Nationwide, Operation Transformation, Celebrity Masterchef, Castle, Telly Bingo and even superannuated sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!, which felt like a repeat the first time we saw it.
Why are there so many reruns on our national broadcaster? Are the public, who fund this through their license fees, being sold a pup? And can anything be done about it?
Louise Bruton has written on TV and pop culture for spooool.ie, fanny.ie, the Irish Independent and elsewhere. "I wouldn't just criticise RTe for repeats," she says. "Most TV channels cash in on it; it's easy to throw on reruns. If I were in charge, and a deadline was messed up or a live broadcast went over, I'd go into the vaults and churn out a well-loved episode of Father Ted."
According to TV editor with entertainment.ie, Fiona Flynn, "During summer RTe rely heavily on repeats of shows that were successful over the winter, hence you're seeing so much of the Brennan brothers, Dermot Bannon and the like. These are only commissioned for one series a year so they get as much mileage as possible from them.
"And while repetitions are irritating, many viewers probably don't know it's a repeat or don't care. If people like a show or presenter, they'll watch it. Also, a lot of households still don't wander too far from RTE, so this could explain why viewing figures are so high for repeats."
Billy McGrath is co-founder of Sideline Productions and responsible for hits like Rubber Bandits, Liffey Laughs, Take Me Out and Great Irish Bake-off. He says, "RTE are no different than other broadcasters who want to keep their biggest 'rating' brands to autumn or winter. Their slice of the advertising pie is being eaten by a wide range of smaller channels, and online strategies from bigger brands. And with the World Cup happening now, no broadcaster is going to risk debuting expensive new shows against a mammoth TV event hoovering up advertisers and even non-sports audiences.
"Also, our viewing habits are changing so sometimes repeats are welcome if you missed a show first time around. The recent repeat of RTE's documentary Who's Buying Ireland? drew 250,000 viewers and a 20 per cent share: that's a healthy return for a one-hour programme only aired six months before. The same happens with Mrs Brown's Boys, Bachelors Walk and others.
"The problem is often what RTE cannot repeat. The big, live, Reality shows like The Voice, where RTE invest so much of their entertainment budget: everyone knows who won. Whereas lifestyle shows or comedies are TV gold: any episode can air anytime."
So, there are caveats in criticism of RTE's mania for repeats – but the criticisms still stand. RTE is in the unique position of having a public service remit; a trade-off for the licence fee. Whether it's fair or not, they have an obligation to produce original material, not just chase ratings.
Billy says: "As the national broadcaster RTE certainly has a remit to spend money on innovation and creativity. In an ideal world they'd be leading from the front in funding new shows, sourcing talent and providing Irish audiences with a constantly changing TV dynamic.
"The projected increase in their coffers from the home broadcasting charge should provide additional commissioning funds for Irish producers."
Louise argues that RTE "should absolutely give way for new material, new faces, new shows, new ideas. The curse about repeats is that it's easy to not look beyond what's in front of you. In Ireland alone, we have so many incredible writers, producers, actors, directors, but unfortunately, the struggle to get on air can knock some bright people out of the race."
Fiona adds: "More could be done to add original content into the mix, especially during the week. People have learned to expect this 'repeat season' from RTE in summer, but considering how many writers and producers would kill for these primetime spots, it's a shame they don't attempt a bit more variety.
"TV3 have really stepped up to the plate in providing original, entertaining content, whether documentaries or gameshows. Considering their budget must be significantly less than the state broadcaster's, there's really no legitimate reason why RTE can't start doing the same.
Billy suggests a possible solution to the money problem: more advertiser-funded programming, "where brands partner with independent producers to deliver packaged programming direct to broadcasters, or launch online channels across shared platforms.