Director-General’s Review

Dee Forbes

“It is truly gratifying that so many people continue to turn to RTÉ programming each week”

As we reflect on the past two years, I have never been more convinced of the need and role of public service broadcasting in creating a shared space, for important discussion and debate, for celebration, and for telling national stories.

Across 2021, RTÉ created work of high public value in news, investigative reporting, arts and cultural experiences, sporting participation, original drama, entertainment and children’s programming. Throughout the year, our radio services analysed the topical issues of the day, while also keeping spirits high. We introduced new faces and voices to our schedules, and continued to support our artists and performers, both established and emerging. Despite unparalleled access to the media services that the world has to offer, 44 out of 50 of the most watched television programmes in 2021 were broadcast by RTÉ. Almost 2 million listeners tune into an RTÉ radio service each week, and with 98 million page viewers per month RTÉ online services have achieved leadership standards of content and audience engagement. 92% of the population use one or more RTÉ services each week, making it one of the most relied-upon services within the country. And despite the challenges to attract younger audiences, audience share among 25-44 year olds on RTÉ services have grown over the past two years. While live audience opportunities were limited due to COVID-19, we were delighted to showcase new and established Irish musical talent across a breadth of programming including new hit series Heart of Saturday Night which aired during the summer. We developed new animations, in English and in Irish, for younger audiences, and we continued to support families during school closures with Home School Hub.

Working in partnership with Screen Ireland, Screen Producers Ireland, and other international broadcasters, we were proud to bring to air new Irish dramas, Smother, Kin and Hidden Assets. Apart from high viewership on RTÉ One, these series have proved hugely popular on the RTÉ Player, with Kin having attracted 2.47 million streams.

In February and March 2021, following a national ‘Have Your Say’ media campaign, almost 10,000 members of the public gave their views on RTÉ and what they want from it. These insights will help guide what RTÉ will do over the years ahead. What was clear was the high priority that they gave to RTE’s independence, and accountability. 97% of respondents said it was important that RTÉ provides high quality national and international news and current affairs that are accurate, fair, impartial and objective. RTÉ must also make autonomous editorial decisions and 96% say it is important that RTÉ hold those in positions of authority to account. RTÉ’s comprehensive and in-depth news bulletins are now watched by even more viewers than two years ago. Through its investigative reporting (such as RTÉ Investigates: Stuck in the Rough, featuring the overwhelming challenges faced by Ireland’s homeless population), RTÉ continues to bring to light important societal issues.

2021 was also a memorable year for Irish sport and RTÉ’s role in uniting the country for national moments was to the fore in RTÉ’s Olympic coverage. 2.6 million viewers were reached through RTÉ2’s coverage of all of our national participants, and our coverage of the Paralympics reached 1.5 million viewers. The 45 games of the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament were watched by an average audience of 345,000 viewers. The GAA Hurling, Football and Camogie Finals attracted an even higher average audience than the year before, with the Senior Football Final between Mayo and Tyrone attracting an average audience of 945,000. This level of engagement, and national celebration, would not be possible without these events being made available on a free-to-air basis. Though rights negotiations are increasingly competitive, RTÉ remains committed to ensuring that the enjoyment of national sports is available to all.

We also became a more sustainable organisation, achieving the globally recognised international energy management standard, ISO 50001, becoming the first broadcaster in the UK or Ireland to do so. RTÉ was also among 12 international broadcasters to sign up to the Climate Content Pledge. The signatories, who also include BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky, are all committed to developing content that helps our audiences understand what climate crisis might mean for them, as well as inspire and inform sustainable choices.

2021 was a year which highlighted the important role that RTÉ plays in helping to connect the Irish public with those who are in need, through a range of inspiring fundraising initiatives. The response from the public to appeals on The Late Late Show, the 2fm Breakfast Show, Liveline and The Ray D’Arcy Show among others, was one of the more uplifting elements in a year that was so difficult for many. The Late Late Toy Show once again broke viewership records attracting 1.7 million viewers, and raised over €6.6 million for the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal.

RTÉ services remain relevant, trusted and compelling. They are enjoyed by many, and RTÉ continues to play an important role in enhancing Irish life.

Much of the past decade has been dominated by the challenges of financial instability. I very much hope that 2022 marks a turning point in national investment in public service media. It has never mattered more, and our resolve to serve our audiences with the best of Irish content has never been greater.

Dee Forbes