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Public tuning out of TV3 and TnaG

LESS people are watching TV3 and TnaG, according to official viewing figures for the six months from October to March last.The figures reveal a worrying trend for the two small stations which must find ways of attracting more viewers and generating the finance necessary to make and promote new programmes.

TV3 lost £2.1m between November and February, according to figures released last week by CanWest, the Canadian multi-national that controls the new station.

Last October, in the afterglow of publicity surrounding its launch, TV3 managed to attract six out of every 100 viewers nationally.

But since October its primetime share of the audience has fallen by one sixth and, for each of the last three months, it has stood at just five per cent. The two RTÉ stations, RTÉ1 and Network 2, have held their own during the same period, with a combined share of 56 per cent of the audience.

Although the TV3 franchise is for a national station, the company has concentrated its efforts on attracting viewers aged between 15 and 44. But even here there is a similar decline, from seven to six per cent.

And in the three quarters of Irish homes which receive stations from Britain, the TV3 share of all viewers has dropped from five to four per cent, and of those aged 15-44 from six to five per cent.

The most popular programmes on TV3 during March were films such as A Few Good Men, which achieved a rating of five. Only three series made it into the top ten Charmed, Early Edition and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

There is some good news. Thanks to TV3 and TnaG, Irish people overall are watching Irish television more than they did this time last year. The total share of the audience tuned into foreign channels has fallen, despite increased competition. However, the latest figures suggest that the gains may not last.

For Teilifís na Gaeilge, the partly Irish-language station, a decline in primetime audiences is also reflected in official statistics compiled by AC Nielsen.

AC Nielsen is the company contracted by TnaG and other broadcasters, together with advertisers, to chart the programmes that the public actually watch. It is the industry standard.

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Nielsen records that last October an average of 1.3 per cent of viewers were watching TnaG at any given moment in prime time. The figure fell to 1.2 per cent in November and then 1.1 per cent in December. It rose slightly to 1.2 per cent again in January, but has fallen back to 1.1 per cent for each of the past two months.

And in the three quarters of Irish homes which can now receive foreign channels, the proportion watching TnaG has fallen in the same period from 1.1 per cent to 0.8 per cent, despite TnaG's efforts to attract more viewers by screening English-language films and TV programmes.

The best rating on TnaG during the first two weeks of March was just two for its short comedy series entitled Barabbas. Films featured next in its top ten, with local soap-series Ros Na Rún scoring in fourth and eight places with a rating of just one.

Aidan Dunne, chairman of MCM Communications and a leading media-buyer, points out that ``the movies on TnaG have an audience and if I get it at the right price then it is part of the basket''. He says that TnaG's positioning on Cablelink does not help the channel but adds that, ``it was always my argument from day one that putting the Irish language on its own channel was doing it no favours''.

TnaG is taking some consolation from the fact that a programme commissioned by it, Lipservice, has just won the short drama award at the Celtic Film Festival.

For its part, ``TV3 went soft during February,'' according to Mr Dunne. But he still describes that station as being ``a nice little piece in the jigsaw because most of the viewing it has taken has been from non-RTÉ channels''.

Acknowledging that TV3 has had some bad luck with the cancellation (due to the Balkan crisis) of two heavily-promoted soccer internationals for which the station had TV rights, Mr Dunne said that the advertising industry is generally satisfied with TV3 because it has delivered the audience that it had promised for the first year.

But he added that ``the more worrying thing is that numbers are sticking at around a five per cent share. Growth is slow on coming through.''

* Dr Colum Kenny is a member of the IRTC. This article is written in a personal capacity.

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