RTE says it is ready for the digital TV challenge

18 Nov 2010

Ireland’s State broadcaster RTE, which is investing €70m in digital terrestrial TV (DTT), today outlined how it is getting ready for the digital TV revolution, smartphones and social media.

At the Audio Visual Federation conference ‘Digital Content and the Creative Economy’, RTE’s head of programming Steve Carson said that already in Ireland 81pc of people are digital TV viewers.

He said that in digital homes, RTE 1 and RTE 2 are among the most viewed and the broadcaster is still growing its market share. Despite the huge range and choice in the digital space Carson said there is a strong demand for distinctly Irish content. “This informs our programming strategy.

“In terms of DTT, because we are continuing to grow in digital homes, we are not going into DTT in a defensive format like ITV and Channel 4. We are doing OK and our DTT lineup is driven part regulatory and by legislation and as a way of offering new services.”

Carson said RTE.ie is the biggest website in Ireland and has about 3.8 million unique visitors every month. He said the broadcaster is adding to this with a range of smartphone radio apps, sports apps, GAA apps, news apps and forthcoming TV apps.

He said that online initiatives like Storyland are yielding a range of crossover programmes that began on the web but are now broadcast, such as Hardy Bucks and Republic of Telly.

Co-viewing trends

“We spend a lot of time and effort on young people’s programming and we’re keeping up with the co-viewing trend in terms of people being online and watching TV at the same time. Some programmes, like Apartment Red, are online but can get 78,000 hits on YouTube. In terms of social media, like a lot of broadcasters, we are exploring it but we are using it as a promotional tool, but we intend to use it to deepen the user experience.”

Returning to RTE’s €70m DTT rollout, Carson said there will be a consumer launch in the spring, but in the meantime the broadcaster will be evaluating new services and new content. “It’s all about digital world convergence and this ultimately means more ways to access content and that means putting the audience in control of material.”

Carson’s colleague Muirne Laffan, executive director at RTE Publishing, explained that usage of online content is going up. “We have 80 million page impressions a month and 3.8 million unique users a month. iPlayer is attracting 10 million hits a month and 2 million streams of programmes. We’re finding that popular shows like the Late Late Show and comedy are very popular but also smaller programmes are ranking highly.

“The international iPlayer, which we launched a month ago, doesn’t have as much content, and rights are the reason for this. Also, in terms of co-produced materials, we don’t want to limit the international opportunity in overseas markets for companies.”

RTE’s mobile strategy

Laffan explained that mobile is emerging as one of the most dynamic elements of RTE’s internet strategy.

“We are now 10 years in mobile in terms of news and sports. In the past year and a half, we’ve been in the apps business. Our first iPhone app was News Now, which attracted 155,000 downloads and we’re seeing people on it all the time. Mobile users and early adopters are heavy users.

“The mobile audience are an energetic audience and we’re seeing growth of 107pc a year. The challenge is to commercialise that. We recently put out a sports app and that attracted 50,000 downloads, 30pc of those were international.

“Our projections are that mobile will represent 50pc of internet usage and soon 50pc of that content will be video. So our strategy going forward will be about content and its integration with social media, which is an opportunity and a challenge. Social media is an expensive and labour-intensive process but it gets buzz and you need to get your audience talking about content and services,” Laffan said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years