In 1999 RTÉ published proposals for a DTT system that they would spearhead (similar to the role the BBC took in the creation of Freeview in the UK). As part of the plans RTÉ would create four new channels; one giving coverage to the Oireachtas, one for children, one for educational programming and a rolling-news channel.
The 1999 plans collapsed some time after and only now is Ireland beginning to make progress on its DTT ambitions again. After speaking to Anne O’Connor (Special Advisor to the Director General at RTÉ) it appears that the original plans of the national broadcaster have shifted substantially; tomorrow’s Sunday Business Post should have more on the matter for those interested, I’ll link to it once it’s online. While Anne stated that RTÉ weren’t ready to publish their plans at present, it did seem to me that a dedicated news channel is less likely than it was before. In her words “the landscape has changed since 1999… there are other rolling-news services around now that weren’t there before”.
That’s not to say that RTÉ News 24 won’t happen, there’s every possibility that it will launch alongside the national DTT network (which is expected some time after 2008). RTÉ must, however, act on the behalf of the licence fee payers; would such a service really benefit enough viewers to justify the cost? Of the four propsed channels from 1999 the news service would be the most expensive, at least in my humble opinion. The Irish Oireachtas already records and streams everything, all RTÉ would need to do is pick up on the feed and rebroadcast it; perhaps a nightly or weekly review programme would accompany the service but this is only a slight extension on the existing “Week In Politics” show currently in RTÉ One. A childrens channel wouldn’t be a huge leap from the existing weekday broadcasts of RTÉ Two either; An example being Monday, where childrens programming broadcasts from 6:35 in the morning until half five in the evening (with the following two hours dedicated to teen-friendly television). As it stands “The Den” already broadcasts as a standalone channel on the NTL platform; to the best of my knowledge it’s no more than a simulcast to put RTÉ kids programming amongst the bona-fide children’s channels. A modest studio, two hyper presenters and some sticky-back plastic could help make the leap to a fully fledged channel. The fact that Childrens channels don’t usually broadcast after six-eight in the evening makes things even easier.
An educational channel could be more of a challenge, but at the same time programming similar to the Channel 4 schools broadcasts couldn’t be seriously expensive and such programming could enlist the help of various schools, colleges and universities in their development.
A news channel for Ireland, done properly, would be superb. To be done properly it would need to follow suit of the BBC rather than Sky; original programming is a must, constant and repetitive rolling news is a mistake. Another issue is the news itself; does enough happen in Ireland to make the broadcasts unique enough from the British and international variant? Running a channel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, employing additional presenters, researchers, producers and journalists (among other things) would add a big strain to the RTÉ news/current affairs budget, it’s impossible to say at this point if such a strain would be viable and what effect it would have on the licence fee. There are other options, perhaps an hourly news update which would be available on RTÉ Interactive.
A rolling news channel would be something I’d like to see in Ireland, and in my opinion RTÉ would be the people to do it. At the same time I know it would almost certainly come with a big licence fee increase and it may not be value for money for the Irish population; how many people would actually watch it? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.