In this issue
Suil eile in crowded market
|Hugh Oram profiles TG4, the Irish language TV station launched 14 years ago|
Although only about 100,000 people in Ireland speak Irish, figures show that many more people regularly tune into TG4. English sub-titles on many Irish language shows, although not yet on the news, help the process. Nielsen figures show TG4 has about 2.6 per cent of the TV audience in the Republic and a similar share across the border.
Like RTE I, TG4 is at the older end of the spectrum of channels, with a quarter of its audience under 35. Slightly more than half its viewers are male, while it has a higher proportion of viewers living outside Dublin than any other channel. TG4 provides about 4.3 hours a day of original Irish language programming, supplemented by repeats.
By 2013, TG4 aims to step up this figure to six hours a day. This year, the channel is getting €32.5 million in government funding. Last year, its funding was cut by almost €5m, while it saw a 35 per cent reduction in advertising and other commercial income.
Over 90 per cent of TG4's Irish language output is commissioned from the independent sector, directly sustaining almost 300 jobs. The balance of Irish language output is generated in-house, with talk, music programmes and Irish language commentary on international sports events like Wimbledon and the Tour de France.
Its news output on Nuacht TG4 is part of a deal agreed with RTE. The national broadcaster produces Irish language news for TG4 as well as for its own channels from a new, state-of-the-art newsroom and studio in Baile na hAbhann in Connemara.
Post TV, part of the Crosbie-owned Sunday Business Post, has handled ad sales for TG4 since day one and its contract was recently renewed. The station says that commercial income accounts for eight per cent of its overall budgets. Post TV operates a ‘flexible and customised approach' to advertisers which has worked well to date.
Due to its sports content, TG4 has a high rate of housekeepers and male viewers. Advertisers are increasingly open to using Irish in their commercials, since many consumers support Irishness as a core value. The station has worked on building a reputation for being cost effective but creative - a bit edgy.
TG4 director general Pol O Gallchoir said the station's working language, location, small budgets and a collective sense of mission shared by independent producers and staff promote innovation and creativity. The channel has been a fertile training ground for a generation of new scriptwriters, actors, producers and technicians.
TG4's twice weekly soap, Ros na Run has been an anchor in the schedule 1996. The show is shot on location near An Spideal in the Connemara Gaeltacht and its 1,000th episode was aired recently. Ros na Run is watched by about 250,000 viewers a week.
Gráinne Seoige, her sister Sile, Daithi O Se, compere for this year's Rose of Tralee and radio presenter Hector O hEochagáin all made their mark first on TG4.
Close on three-quarters of Irish TV viewers now have digital television and this means that they now have a choice of several hundred channels. All established TV channels are seeing their viewing share come under severe pressure as a result of this competition.
Despite this reality, O Gallchoir said TG4 and TV3 were the only terrestial broadcasters in either Ireland or the UK to have increased their viewing share last year. Live sport, especially GAA Beo and music and entertainment have helped this growth.
TG4's sports editor Ronan O Coisdealbha said the weekend's GAA coverage is another milestone for the channel. A commitment to providing season-long coverage of the National League competitions is complimented by GAA fans throughout Ireland. On occasions, its GAA coverage gives TG4 the highest ratings of any Irish channel.
TG4 works closely with BBC Alba, the Gaelic language service in Scotland and S4C in Wales. The head of content at BBC Alba, Alan Esslemont, worked with TG4. Despite gaining its corporate independence three years ago, TG4 still has close ties with RTE which must provide 365 hours a year of Irish language programming, including news.
Last year, TG4 won 41 awards for its programming, personalities and marketing. At the recent Celtic Media Festival in Newry, the station won three of the main awards and got eight nominations at the Monte Carlo festival for its comedy drama, An Crisis.
TG4 maintains a strong, unique identity and some new idents are planned for this year.
Getting TG4 on air in the first place was the culmination of a long and hard fought campaign, but since it arrived the channel has more than lived up to its original slogan, Suil Eile (another view), which is still used today.
At a time when so much of the TV schedules is made up of cheap, nasty programming, often repeated ad infinitum,TG4 stands out from the crowd and on restricted budgets.
The onus is on them to keep it going and in trying times. Aris agus aris.