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TV3's serious intent
TV3's serious intent
|Kevin Rafter looks at what TV3 is doing to create a more credible image for itself|
TV3 is the station of hard-knocks in the Irish broadcast market. The privately-owned national broadcaster has long been an easy target for criticism especially with its reliance on imported programming and a diet of low-brow and trashy viewing. But such superficial commentary fails to acknowledge recent changes in TV3's schedule and, more significantly, the importance of its news service.
The value of TV3 in the broadcasting landscape in Ireland was evident last month when the station's political editor Ursula Halligan asked Taoiseach Brian Cowen how his late night/early morning activities might have impacted upon the now notorious Morning Ireland interview. Nine months previous, the same TV3 journalist broke news about Brian Lenihan's illness. The debate about the journalistic ethics may divide opinion but with a second national news outlet, there is potential for news diversity. If RTÉ won't pursue a story, perhaps TV3 will and vice versa. So TV3 offers the viewer an alternative news service to RTÉ and for that reason alone it is worth having on Irish screens.
Comparisons can be unfair. TV3 is not RTÉ 1, nor should it be. The purpose of a second national TV service is to offer viewers an alternative. It is the principle justification for why the TV market was opened up for local competition to RTÉ. But during its early years, TV3 failed to fill that role. The station's schedule was indistinguishable for Sky One or a Living or a Dave. The ‘Irish' in TV3 was frequently hard to locate.
TV3 boss David McRedmond is trying to change the station's emphasis by using Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) funds to show more home-produced shows.
But TV3 is a different story today. The current management regime deserves credit for a reorientation in the station's schedule. They have been clever in their approach. In some instances, they have merely piggybacked on successful formats from elsewhere. Like adapting shows like The Apprentice to give them a local twist. They plan to try and repeat this formula for ratings success with an Irish version of Come Dine With Me.
An adaptation of the hugely popular Channel 4 series will have a 30-episode run. Within the overall schedule, there is still plenty of light fare that is not to everyone's viewing tastes. But not all viewers want highbrow TV all the time - or at all - and the week-night Tonight with Vincent Browne has given the station a seriousness it lacked previously.
In this way, TV3 has been filling gaps in the Irish TV schedule which were not filled by RTÉ - and that is how it should be. RTÉ remains the dominant player in the broadcast market here. It has the role of public service broadcaster and with access to a minimum of 93 per cent of the TV licence fee, RTÉ has to meet certain statutory obligations that do not concern TV3. But RTÉ needs to be kept on its toes and local competition helps.
There have been rewards for better quality programming. TV3 boss David McRedmond said more Irish people are watching TV3 than UTV and BBC combined and the station has overtaken RTÉ 2 to become the second most watched channel after RTÉ 1.
There is still the periodic bleating about the unfairness of RTÉ having access to ad revenue and the licence fee. TV3 is correct in seeking greater financial transparency over how RTE's spends the licence fee but McRedmond and his colleagues should accept the reality that these are the rules of the game their business entered from day one. Plus, the private station benefits from having more minutage per hour than its state-owned rival.
TV3 says it will make 150 hours of home-produced content in the current year. That is about 40 per cent of the station's total output - twice the minimum required - and it is set to increase further next year. This programming is from a relatively small but not insignificant budget of €20.5 million, including €1.5m from the Sound & Vision fund.
The change in TV3's schedule supports the argument for making a slice of the licence fee available to all broadcasters. A raft of programming that has been transmitted to Irish radio and TV audiences would not have been made without the financial support of the scheme which is currently seven per cent of every €160 licence fee.
Most likely without the ‘nudge' of Sound & Vision, TV3 would not have had documentaries and other public service type-programming in its schedules. The funding has increased ‘slots' for producers while their reliance on RTÉ has decreased somewhat.
Former communications minister Dermot Ahern deserves credit for backing this approach despite stiff resistance from RTÉ management in 2003. Indeed, there is a certain irony that Bob Collins, who as RTÉ's director-general was said to be alarmed and apprehensive at the idea, is now chairing the BAI which oversees the scheme.
With the help of Sound & Vision, TV3 has commissioned what looks like, on paper at least, excellent ‘public service' documentaries. There is one on life for 19 families in a tenement building as recorded in the 1911 census and another about Irish men who fought in World War II. The station is investing €400,000 in a co-production to deliver a three-part drama series for 2012 to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.