Wednesday 18 September 2019

Lorraine Courtney: 'Why should millennials pay the device tax so older generations can still watch RTÉ?'

On demand: ‘Stranger Things’ from Netflix has captured huge audiences online since the series launched in 2016
On demand: ‘Stranger Things’ from Netflix has captured huge audiences online since the series launched in 2016
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

The latest leaks about the bleak Brexit fallout for Ireland and the UK suggests our Government has plenty on its plate.

There are many things to worry about and many battle fronts. Households will undoubtedly feel an economic pinch in the coming months and years.

But into the mix we may be asked to consider paying a new "broadcasting charge". The Government can't be serious. Why on earth would we pay for RTÉ's programming when we can access the entire web on our smartphones?

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The days of omnipresent TV sets are gone. Now so many of us have access to the internet via personal devices we don't even need TV to tell us the news. I rarely watch live TV, and beyond current affairs and cookery shows, I don't have much interest in mainstream television. Almost all of my media consumption is online and most of the time, it is not Irish content.

Sitting down on the settee at a fixed time for a scheduled programme? That's what my parents did in the eighties. I'm not unusual. One day - and that day is fast approaching - this is what everyone will be doing. Already such viewing habits are shared by a large and ever growing numbers of adults.

True, lots of us still tune in for the big sports events. Six of the most-watched programmes on Irish television last year were sport, with the national rugby team delivering large viewing figures for RTÉ and Virgin Media. Ireland's Grand Slam decider against England was the most popular TV sporting event of 2018, and the second most-watched programme of the year behind 'The Late Late Toy Show'.

The major concern for television stations isn't that they are losing all of their clientele (they're not) but that millennials, and the generations that come after us, are going to shift the way television is consumed from here on out.

According to a survey by - an American comparison website - Ireland is third behind the US and Canada for use of Netflix, an internet-based service which has gone from niche to mainstream in a couple of years.

While there are no official Irish figures for Netflix subscriptions, it's estimated to be about 250,000, with that figure expected to rise to more than 500,000 by 2020.

Thanks to Netflix and the ease at which we can access a wider and heavily populated spectrum of television drama, boxset bingeing took over from the norm that was once reliant on sitting down at the same time every Sunday to find out what was going on in 'Glenroe'. And unfortunately for traditional broadcasters, millennials are digitally literate enough to stream every programme under the sun.

Conscious that traditional television is becoming redundant for a generation raised on social media, downloads and YouTube, the Government plans to swap the current licence, which costs €160 a year, for a new household payment.

It has said it's going to replace the traditional TV licence fee with a new "device independent broadcasting charge". This new State-enforced tax (let's call a spade a spade) is designed to take the transformation in the media landscape into account, where we're increasingly watching TV on devices.

Good luck to them. Getting Irish people to pay a TV licence fee is already hard. The inspectors have heard all the excuses, as the advertisement says, because we regularly try all of them. The existing licence fee is regressive and very costly and time consuming to collect, pointlessly clogging up the legal system with offenders.

An Post took proceedings against 11,693 people in 2017 for not having a television licence - a slight drop on the 11,994 in 2016 - and over the past five years has taken a whopping 64,272 people to court for non-payment of the €160 fee, according to figures from the Department of Communications.

Basically, the Government now wants us to pay for the elderly to watch television. And because the elderly watch more television, broadcasting is geared towards them, pushing younger people towards platforms we actually want to watch.

It'll be hard to levy a brand new charge on every household in the country and I wonder will it provoke similar outrage to the water charge?

I suspect many people are likely to get quite annoyed at the notion of a household charge, even if it is only to replace the existing TV licence fee they are already paying. I can't see younger people willing to fork out for a broadcasting charge for their co-living space.

And won't every single domestic media company that puts public service content on its website be entitled to its share of the spoils?

Right now, 7pc of the total revenue net of An Post's commission is paid to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for the operation of the Broadcasting Funding Scheme. All remaining revenues are paid to RTÉ, which still takes commercial advertising and sponsorship.

You'd think a public state broadcaster should either have adverts or the fee. Other media companies would be foolish not to insist on getting their share of any new broadcast licence charge.

Those of us without a telly shouldn't be forced to pay for RTÉ's programming - on top of our broadband charge and other subscriptions. Seems like this Government is running out of ways to tax us.

Irish Independent

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