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Saturday 24 August 2019

RTÉ loses €13m - citing costs of Papal broadcasts and World Cup

Boss raises the spectre of more job losses and licence reforms

High price: Covering the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland was one of the special events that cost RTÉ €7.2m. Photo: MAXWELLS ON BEHALF OF WMOF18
High price: Covering the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland was one of the special events that cost RTÉ €7.2m. Photo: MAXWELLS ON BEHALF OF WMOF18

Shawn Pogatchnik

RTÉ recorded a net €13m loss last year, citing the €7.2m costs of covering special events such as the papal visit, World Cup and presidential election.

Director general Dee Forbes warned that "every day we have to curtail our own ambitions" due to constrained resources. The State broadcaster's annual report showed a modest underlying improvement in cashflow following layoffs of 160 staff via voluntary retirement and redundancy.

This process cost €29.6m in 2017 and left RTÉ with an end-of-2018 payroll of 1,822 including 250 part-timers, down 8pc from 2016. RTÉ said its operating costs in 2018 declined by €1.9m to €332.6m, while revenue rose by €1.5m to €339m, to give a narrow underlying profit of €6.5m before exceptional items.

But this excluded RTÉ's declared bill for covering the World Cup in Russia, the visit to Ireland of Pope Francis and the October presidential election - all foreseeable and scheduled events.

RTÉ said financial conditions this year remain "very challenging, with inadequate levels of operational funding from both licence fee and commercial revenue to fund its obligations".

Ms Forbes appealed for reforms to the licence fee, citing the high cost of collecting the annual bill from households and the relatively high rate of evasion versus European norms.

"We want to do more," Ms Forbes said in a statement. "We are full of programme ideas, but every day we have to curtail our own ambitions and the creative ambitions of the broader independent production sector due to our constrained resources."

In an RTÉ interview, Ms Forbes warned that more cuts in staff and programming could be in the offing.

"We are now looking at everything again and we're reviewing everything we do. And I think it's fair to say we can't continue to do everything we do because there hasn't been action by Government," she said.

Salaries

The annual report contained no details of the salaries of individual staff. In December RTÉ reported that its top-paid employee in 2016 was 'Late Late Show' host Ryan Tubridy on €495,000. Ray D'Arcy was second on €450,000, Joe Duffy third on €389,988, and Sean O'Rourke fourth on €308,964.

RTÉ recorded a net profit in 2017 thanks only to its sale of an 8.64-acre site to Cairn Homes.

Yesterday's annual report said the sale gained RTÉ a net €99.5m profit because it accrued €10m in costs preparing the site for handover, including the relocation of the 'Fair City' set and RTÉ's crèche and social club.

The land sale "provided resources to allow RTÉ to address its underinvestment in infrastructure and technology", the report said.

"It will not solve the requirement to increase investment in programming and content or fund operational deficits."

RTÉ said viewers' ever-increasing use of video streaming alternatives, particularly Netflix, undercut its ability to grow advertising revenue.

Irish Independent

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