New RTÉ channel will focus on free-to-air system (SBP – 22nd June 2008)

An article of mine on FTA satellite in Ireland is in today’s Sunday Business Post – you can find it here. The article is very much an overview of the state of FTA satellite in Ireland and the potential it now has considering the changes in content and availability.

The article has a brief look at RTÉ‘s plans for its RTÉ International service as well as reasons why the other channels in the RTÉ stable won’t be on FTA any time soon.

One figure that I didn’t get until the very last minute, and so didn’t make it into the article, is that 5% of Irish homes are using “Other satellite” systems. This figure is from AGB Nielsen and would include households that use satellite systems to pick up foreign broadcasts, such as FTA channels from Poland and so on.

The text of the article is below:

RTE’s plans to launch a channel for the Irish diaspora may draw more attention to free-to-air (FTA) satellite systems, which give householders access to many of their favourite TV channels without the monthly bill.

FTA satellite is not new to Ireland, but has previously been seen as the sole preserve of technology hobbyists.

The content available to those who did have a system was traditionally limited also, with most of the channels available coming from mainland Europe.

However, the increased availability of cheap FTA systems in mainstream shops, combined with the move by British channels onto the platform over the past few years, has made FTA satellite more attractive here.

From March 17, 2009, the platform will also carry its first proper Irish channel – RTE International – which is to be the broadcaster’s service for the Irish diaspora.

‘‘There are no final plans, but if you were to take the home-produced content from RTE 1 and 2 and combine it, you’d get a fair idea of what ‘International’ will look like,” said a spokesperson for RTE.

‘‘We’re trying to make the service as rounded as possible and get a wide range of programming.”

The new RTE channel will be broadcast from the same satellite as British FTA channels produced by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. These signals can be received anywhere in Britain and Ireland, as well as mainland Europe.

In order to view the programming, all a person needs is a satellite and digital receiver which can be purchased for as little as €80, but which may cost somewhat more to install if done professionally.

Despite RTE’s plans to use the free platform for its new international channel and the increased use of FTA satellite in Ireland, the chances of RTE One and Two also going onto FTA satellite are still quite low for now, however. The issue, they say, is programming rights.

‘‘The rights agreements we sign for purchased programming tend to cover Ireland only – that’s particularly true with sports content,” said the RTE spokesperson.

‘‘We have to block out GAA matches in Northern Ireland, for example, as Setanta have the British rights and we don’t. There’s no way for us to broadcast FTA on satellite without broadcasting in other countries too.”

RTE said it was constantly reviewing its options and as part of its universal service obligation, it was aiming to be ‘platform neutral’ wherever possible.

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