Matchmaker says RTÉ rejected ads, but seeks a bail-out

Intro Matchmaking director Feargal Harrington

Wayne O'Connor

RTÉ has been accused of failing to maximise its revenue streams following a row with a matchmaking company over online advertising.

It comes after RTÉ told an Oireachtas committee that funding deficits threaten how it delivers on a remit to inform the public.

One business, Intro Matchmaking, which has featured on RTÉ programmes and previously advertised with the broadcaster, said RTÉ prevented it from advertising on its website last year. It claimed RTÉ wrongfully categorised the company among online dating sites, portals used for arranging extramarital affairs and sex shops.

“This is like putting a Michelin star restaurant in the same bucket as Gaviscon — one might eventually lead to the need for the other, but that’s about as strong as the link could be,” Intro Matchmaking director Feargal Harrington said.

His matchmaking agency operates out of an office in Dublin city centre, where it engages with clients. It is not comparable to an online dating site or app, Mr Harrington added.

He said his company agreed to run advertising on RTÉ’s website last year, but the ads were later rejected by the broadcaster,  which said its policy was to reject advertising for online dating services on all its commercial platforms.

Intro disputed being included in the policy, arguing its services differ from online dating providers.

It previously ran radio ads on RTÉ and featured on programmes in the past decade, including the Late Late Show. It also advertised in the RTÉ Guide in 2020.

Mr Harrington said the firm had considered spending up to €50,000 on a series of adverts last year, but had to reconsider after missing a crucial window around St Valentine’s Day due to the dispute with RTÉ. He questioned if the broadcaster was maximising advertising revenue.

“How many other businesses have they refused? RTÉ has a duty of care — not only to support indigenous enterprise, but to the taxpayer to optimise advertising revenues, so the public doesn’t need to shoulder the burden,” he said.

“They are doing neither. With such poor commercial practices, it is just not right to expect a bail-out.”

Last week, an Oireachtas committee heard RTÉ has accumulated borrowings of €65m. This sum matches a shortfall in licence fee revenue.

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes called for the TV licence collection system to be reformed because of high evasion rates.

An RTÉ spokesman said the dispute with Intro Matchmaking was “a rare exception” relating to rules it had in place at the time.

“RTÉ extensively engaged with the company on the issue of categorisation and amended its policy in February 2021 to differentiate services in this category for online advertising,” the spokesman added.

“As part of our obligation as a dualfunded organisation, to maximise commercial revenue RTÉ accepts all advertising — except where rules or regulations prevent RTÉ from doing so. RTÉ commercial revenue in 2020 was €134.5m.”