Monday, February 13, 2012

Public service broadcasting in Ireland is doomed if its financing is not removed from An Post

When it comes to the funding of public service broadcasting the Irish postal service, An Post, is in the dark ages with an appalling, insular incapacity to curtail television licence evasion compared to its UK counterparts and it imposes significantly higher collection costs.  It displays all the hallmarks of a complacent, apathetic public bureaucracy, even though the guy running it is paid €500,000 per annum. The consequences are that the television licence fee is higher than it need be and the sector is losing tens of millions of euro in funds that it is legally entitled to.

Current television licence sales appear to be of the order of 1.4 million per annum.  They ought to be in the region of 1.8 million, given the rise in the occupied stock of houses and considerable scope to increase television licence take-up in institutions and businesses.

RTÉ is the recipient of approximately 90% of the television licence fee which is worth approximately €200 million per annum. The balance goes in collection costs (5.8%) and to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.  If An Post was effective RTÉ would be getting another €30 million from licence fees without any increase.

Advertising is the largest component of commercial revenue at RTÉ but advertising revenue declined by 34% to €134 million from 2007 to the end of 2010. Total RTÉ revenue has declined from €405 million in 2006 to €371 million five years later.

Sole responsibility for selling of television licences rests with An Post, which seems to approach this task from an insular,  candlelit Dickensian back office. 

The BBC direct and control the television licence activity in the UK. Approximately 26.4 million British households (97% of all households) have a television licence that costs £145.50 for a colour television. They provide annual revenue of £3.56 billion to the BBC, of which 66% goes to its ten television channels; 17% to its seven national radio stations and a plethora of local radio stations; 8% is spent online and the remaining 11% goes on ‘other costs’. Television licence fee evasion in the UK has been 5.3% for the past decade. The cost of collecting British television licence money is 5.3% compared to over 9% in Ireland.  The scale is much larger obviously but the approach is more professional.

British television viewers must have a valid TV Licence if they or record television programmes as they're being shown on TV. It makes no difference what equipment they use - whether it’s a laptop, PC, mobile phone, digital box, DVD/video recorder or a TV set – they still need a license. There is no such simplicity in Ireland.

Irish law requires households, businesses or institutions which possess a television set, or equipment receiving a television signal – and that includes a ‘broken’ television set. But a viewer in Ireland does not require a television licence to watch television on a computer or mobile phone, unless the computer is used with another apparatus to receive a signal.

There are approximately 1.4 million television licences sold in Ireland at €160. Approximately one quarter of these (348,000) are paid for by the Department of Social Protection and issued as a component of their Free Television Licence scheme.

An Irish television licence is required by a householder and a business operator, although the web site of An Post is so slovenly that no mention is made of ‘business’ or ‘institution’, nor is there a different approach to meet the needs of business owners – be they shopkeepers, in the hospitality business, nursing homes, hospitals, clubs and communities, residential landlords, schools and colleges etc.

Preliminary estimates from the 2011 Census indicate that, despite there being 294,000 vacant houses in Ireland, the housing stock in Ireland has risen since 2006 by 14% to 1,709,000 residences. An Post also has over 500,000 businesses and institutions on its data base, a substantial number of which are likely to have television sets.

If any headway is to be made by An Post it must radically overhaul how it communicates to those obliged to have a television licence, or some other competent entity must take on this role, perhaps RTÉ. It functions on a one-size-fits-all basis and there is no provision for the needs of, or information for business people or those in charge of institutions. Who at this monolithic organisation is responsible for generating television licence revenue?  Who is responsible for customer relations? Other data including the number of television licences in issue ought to be readily accessible; the number of holders of more than one television licence; the numbers of television licence holders in the business and institutions’, community; the number of licences held by those with second homes and caravans. Deals ought to be available to those with volume requirements.

The public need to know what a single television licence will cover and what a single television licence will not cover; what the position is with respect to television licences covering multiple sites

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