Friday 22 March 2019

RTE plans €3m studio upgrades for ratings battle

Chris Donoghue (left), Alison Comyn, Pat Kenny, Sinead O'Donnell and Claire Brock at the launch of UTV Ireland at the channel’s headquarters and HD studios in Dublin’s Docklands, on New Year’s Day. Photo: Arthur Carron
Chris Donoghue (left), Alison Comyn, Pat Kenny, Sinead O'Donnell and Claire Brock at the launch of UTV Ireland at the channel’s headquarters and HD studios in Dublin’s Docklands, on New Year’s Day. Photo: Arthur Carron
RTE studios in Donnybrook

Paul O'Donoghue

RTE is set to spend as much as €3m upgrading two of its television studios as a ratings battle with rival station UTV Ireland kicked off yesterday.

In a tender notice, the State-owned broadcaster said it plans to upgrade two of its existing television production galleries to enable them to broadcast in high definition.

RTE estimates that the value of the contract will be between €1m and €3m, and added that it was looking to carry out the upgrade this year.

The notice says RTE "will request suitable companies for the supply of equipment, system integration and associates services". The scheduled "start of awards procedures" is February 9.

An RTE spokeswoman said: "We have been implementing studio high definition (HD) upgrades on a phased basis for the last four years. This is the last phase of the four-year programme converting the remaining two main studio control rooms to HD. All equipment being replaced is well beyond design life and is no longer supported by the manufacturers. It would actually be more expensive to replace with standard definition (SD) as most manufacturers no longer make SD equipment."

The news comes as UTV Ireland went live last night, with broadcasting starting at 7.25pm with an hour-long showing of British soap Emmerdale.

Read More: UTV Ireland first night review: the bland leading the bland

Although much has been made of the potential impact of the new channel on rival commercial station TV3, managing director of UTV Ireland Michael Wilson has previously said that he has his eyes set firmly on the state broadcaster's crown.

As well as looking to muscle in on the €200m TV advertising market in the Republic, the station boss has previously said that he is aiming for UTV Ireland to be the second biggest station in the country after RTE One within a year.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Wilson said that UTV Ireland "have the key people to build from launch to become a real force in the creative industries across Ireland".

Since the announcement of the station's launch in November 2013, UTV Ireland has taken on over 100 staff. These have included high-profile names such as Newstalk's Chris Donoghue and former RTE heavyweight Pat Kenny, who will be the face of the new channel and who will front a chat show due to air in March.

It has also poached talent from both of its more established rivals. TV3 saw several reporters leave alongside its head of creative content David Moran, while UTV also pulled off another major coup in luring Marcus Lehnen, the former editor of RTE's Six One and Nine News, away from Montrose.

The bulk of the station's new programming will begin hitting screens from Monday and, crucially, will be available on Saorview after TV3 had previously objected to its broadcast on the state-owned platform.

RTE warned last July that it is faced fresh financial challenges despite posting a profit for the first time since 2007.

The broadcaster, which generated a pre-tax profit of €1.1m in 2013, said UTV Ireland posed a threat to future profits.

Commercial revenue fell 7pc last year to €145.2m. Its licence fee revenue edged 1.5pc higher to €182.4m but its commercial revenue is now lower than it was in 2003.

UTV Ireland is not the only danger. Netflix is also wooing viewers, RTE, director general Noel Curran said.

"Economic conditions remained very challenging while competition increased and marketing budgets were further reduced," RTE said in its annual report.

RTE has reduced its costs by 30pc, or €133m over five years.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News