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RTE plan lacks ambition

No need to increase license fee

RTE plan lacks ambition

RTE’s DG, Dee Forbes, is looking to raise the TV license fee from €160 to €175 a year, to bring in another €15 million. She argues that every other utility has seen a price rise over the last decade while the license fee has remained static. But there’s a problem. Technology has passed RTE by. The idea of paying a license to possibly not watch RTE makes no sense in these days.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am very much pro-RTE having served eight very happy years in the newsroom there. I don’t wish the station any harm and in fact I hope that it can reinvent itself so that it can survive in the world of Netflix, Amazon etc. But it won’t do so via what is a wholly outdated license fee.

The Guardian newspaper, like many other newspapers, is losing many tens of millions of pounds every year. Its survival is mostly down to the sale of 50% of AutoTrader magazine that raised £600m for them a couple of years ago. The UK newspaper says that’s enough to survive on for a further thirty years. I doubt it given the way newspaper sales are going but for now they’re not going to starve.

RTE sold off nine acres of their campus recently, raising €107m. That will keep wolfie away from the door at Montrose for a while. But why the bit sale? Why did RTE not think big and redevelop the entire site. Knowing the buildings as well as I do it could have been the ideal opportunity to plonk the entire station on top floors of an office block which would integrate well with the housing development that is planned.

Irish house builder Cairn bought the nine acres. But there are international funds that think much bigger than 500 homes. Montrose could be developed as an entire village, with all amenities on site. As well as ending up with a shiny new TV and radio station they’d also bank far, far more than the €107m. large sites can attract big premiums in terms of price. To serious developers big is very definitely beautiful.

With all the cash in the bank Forbes wouldn’t have to worry about the license fee for a long time and they could get on with what they do best, making programmes. It looks like a missed opportunity.

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