RTÉ’s quest to boost its revenues through the possible introduction of “re-transmission fees” from the likes of Sky, Virgin Media and eir, took a potential setback this week at an Oireachtas Committee meeting when Sky’s group director of policy and public affairs David Wheeldon told committee members that it would not be paying RTÉ anything and that it would drop it from its channel line-up if necessary.
“Sky would not pay RTÉ for its channels should RTÉ not be obliged to provide them for free,” Wheldon said.
Earlier this year, RTÉ submitted a report carried out by consultants Mediatique which indicated that the national broadcaster should be able to charge Sky around €19m and Virgin Media €11m a year. The national broadcaster has asked the Government to amend the “must offer” part of existing broadcasting legislation which currently prohibits it from charging other operators for retransmitting its stations.
Sky is the largest pay-TV operator in Ireland, with an estimated 600,000 customers and currently broadcasts RTÉs stations, giving them prominence on the electronic programme guide (EPG). Sky’s Irish managing director, JD Buckley said that RTÉ was an important partner for Sky, but that it wanted to grow its commercial relationship with the broadcaster within the existing legislative framework.
The Oireachtas Committee meeting also heard from Virgin Media Ireland’s chief executive Tony Hanway who said there was “no cause or justification” to amend the legislation. He also said that any changes that led to “the enforcement of a tax by RTÉ” on pay-TV providers” would be passed on to customers.
In RTE’s defence, Aisling McCabe, head of platforms and partnerships said there was “no justifiable reason” why “hugely profitable international media companies like Sky and Virgin should receive Irish free-to-air channels and content for free.
“RTÉ is simply looking for the ability to negotiate fair value for our content,” she said.