Friday 28 October 2016

Pat Stacey on TV: RTE is showing 20 repeats in a single day - is this worth your €160 licence fee?

Francis Brennan. PIC: RTE
Francis Brennan. PIC: RTE

OPERATION Transformation might be off the air right now, but it’s comforting to know RTE is still making sterling efforts to ensure the health and fitness of the population isn’t compromised during a summer that hasn’t been as generously blessed with sun-scorched days and balmy evenings as we’d like.

Mindful of the fact that it’s all too easy for a person to deteriorate into a dribbling couch potato who spends every night vegetating in front of the television, can of beer or glass of wine in hand and a jumbo-sized packet of high-calorie snacks balancing precariously on their rapidly expanding gut, RTE1 has moved swiftly to counteract the danger to the population’s well-being.

The channel’s ingenious masterplan is to gently cajole viewers out of their armchairs and into far healthier outdoor pursuits — walking the dog, mowing the grass, chasing away broadband salesmen, that sort of thing — by the simple expedient of tightly packing its schedule with programmes that only the risibly easy to please or those gullible souls who were persuaded to purchase Saorview boxes (same thing, really) would wish to waste a second watching.

But if years of Sunday afternoons spent observing James Bond foiling various evil geniuses with designs on world domination has taught us anything, it’s that ingenious masterplans tend to come with an inbuilt flaw.

In this case the flaw is an unprecedented number of other channels, of whose existence RTE often seems only dimly aware, all fighting for the same audience.


The top-floor suits that run RTE are always talking about “the competition” and fretting about “the competition” and reminding us that “the competition” is the reason they desperately need the €160 licence fee and advertising revenue as well.

And then what do they do to combat the competition? They stuff RTE1 with repeats. On Monday, RTE1 screened 13 repeated programmes. Yesterday there were 18. Today there are 20.

Every TV channel in the world carries repeats. ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC air plenty of them — in fact, there are evenings during the summer when BBC3 and 4 feature nothing but repeats. Then again, these are niche channels, and the Beeb is a massive organisation that caters to a massive audience and has an awful lot of air time to fill. It’s less a question of quantity than quality.

Do we really need to be reminded how bad cop comedy Mattie was? Who wants to watch old episodes of Eco Eye, Ear To The Ground, Franc’s DIY Brides or Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour, all of which have been trotted out this week?

As for Reeling In The Years: it’s been shown so many times already it should be classified as a form of aversion therapy.

There’s a strong case to be made for slashing the cost of the TV licence by a quarter, to acknowledge the three months when RTE effectively folds up the play tent and sods off.

Or perhaps a better solution would be to introduce a radical new funding model: a kind of sliding-scale licence fee. Make RTE a pay-per-view subscription service, whereby you only shell out for those programmes you actually watch.

Say 75c for an edition of The Late Late Show. Saturday Night With Miriam? Mmm, lets see... 25c. That sound fair to you? RTE could even introduce a kind of loyalty card incentive scheme, like the ones in coffee shops.

Watch an entire repeated series of At Your Service, plus a Rachel Allen cookery show of your choice, and you get a tenner back at the end of the year.

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