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Posted on Sunday, October 24, 2004 - 11:33 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

TG4 seeks funds for growth
Sunday Business Post Article

10/24/04 00:00

By Catherine O'Mahony
Eight years after its launch, the Irish language TV channel, TG4, has arrived at a crossroads.

Established initially as TnaG, and four years into its new life as TG4, the channel has been punching above its weight in terms of publicity and critical acclaim.

It is generating a small but steady increase in commercial revenue, and has hit its targeted 3 per cent viewership share.

Many of the challenges ahead are the same as those facing all TV channels - competition from satellite channels, tighter regulation and the effects of new digital technologies. TG4, however, is also seeking more government funding.

"The question of funding is key," said leas-cheannasai Pádhraic Ó Ciardha. "The critics and the public have been kind to us, but without the resources, we cannot develop to anything like the extent we would wish ."

Ó Ciardha has the backing of Screen Producers Ireland, which earlier this month issued a report appealing for a significant increase in funding for TG4 over the next four years.

From the outset, TG4 has had a close relationship with the independent production sector, having started life in October 1996 as a Channel 4style producer/broadcaster.

Of its 19-hour daily output, three hours are now devoted to original Irish programming, chunks of which are produced in TG4's own studios, but most is commissioned from outside.

Written by consultant Peter Quinn and supported by Udarás na Gaeltachta, the report calls on the government to increase TG4's funding to €44 million by 2008.That sum could generate, for example, an additional 120 hours of children's programming a year.

TG4 at present gets one hour a day of programming in Irish from RTE. Its public sector funding (which was cut in 2002 and 2003) reached €23.3 million in 2004.

The report points out that Welsh channel S4C receives far more financial support on a direct comparison. S4C gets public sector funding of £95 million, advertising revenue of £8 million, plus 550 hours of Welsh-language programming.

Ó Ciardha is natural ly pleased with the SPI report, which tallies with TG4's own assessment of its future needs.

TG4 has attracted a broader audience than was first expected, he said. And a look at the data confirms that the channel's audience profile is 23 per cent Dublin-based, which is higher than either RTE's or TV3's (they have 20 per cent each in Dublin).

TG4 viewers are also young. Primary school children constitute a large chunk of the audience, with 14 per cent of its audience aged 4 to 14 (compared with 8 per cent on RTE 1 and 11 per cent on TV3), while 28 per cent is aged 15 to 34 (compared with 23 per cent on RTE 1).

There is a distinct male bias, with men constituting 53 per cent of viewers, against 41 per cent for RTE 1 and just 37 per cent for TV3. Sport has become a big focus forTG4 - its GAA Beó coverage accounted for 11 of the top 15 programmes this year.

"When there are so many other channels available, I think we're seen as distinctively Irish," said Ó Ciardha.

"It's very important to us that, when you turn on TG4, you know exactly where you are."

TG4 is currently reviewing its sales and advertising accounts. Decisions are expected on both contracts by mid-November. Post TV, a division of The Sunday Business Post, has handled TG4 advertising sales since it started, while McConnells is the incumbent advertising agency.

The channel's commercial revenues remain comparatively small, but they are growing. Commercial income is expected to hit around €3 million this year, up from €1.4million in 2000 and €2.6million in 2003.

Sponsorship revenue has been increasing slowly over recent years - Foras na Gaeilge's association with soap opera Ros na Rún is the best-known example.

The channel has invested in three sponsorships of its own. The most prominent is the Women's Gaelic Football Championship (TG4 holds the broadcast rights to this event, as well as being the championship sponsor).

It also sponsors a schools video programme and the music contest Gradam Ceoil. "We're happy with the mix," said Ó Ciardha. "I think it would be hard to find another three deals that would be as beneficial."

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