Love/Hate’s drop in viewers spells more trouble for our public broadcaster

This past week RTÉ’s hit drama ‘Love/Hate’ aired its second episode of series five – to 124,400 less viewers than its first.

The show reached a whopping 976,400 viewers as Season 5 kicked off, however interest has dwindled already just two episodes in and the Donnybrook-based station are facing another problem in getting people interested in their programmes.

The crime drama is the station’s crown jewel but as UTV prepare to enter the Irish market at the turn of the new year RTÉ are going to need more than one good drama and rehashed episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ for people to continue paying the broadcasting charge.

Pat Kenny’s resurrection to TV broadcasting which has seen him join up with UTV and last year’s shock move to Newstalk has proved that everyone is poachable and that working for RTÉ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So with growing concerns on RTÉ’s ability to entertain and inform the nation and with more and more questioning the value of the incoming public service broadcasting charge, is RTÉ’s reluctance to change leaving them on the ropes?

What the new Irish station, UTV, has done is started off with some targeted headhunting, and it’s not just on-screen they’ve stolen high-level employees from either. UTV Ireland has, so far, conducted two major coups that make Ed Woodward at Manchester United look very green in his relatively new post.

The Dublin-based station has hired Matt Williams, who was formerly the Head of Trading in TV3 and Mary Curtis, who was Director of the Digital Switchover in RTÉ, a process, which to all intents and purposes went off seamlessly. With Williams named as UTV’s Group Director of Trading and Mary Curtis named as Head of Channel, the new station has already built a hugely experienced backroom staff, well in advance of its launch in January 2015.

UTV’s entrance into the Irish market has also laid down a significant challenge to TV3 after it swiped some of its highest rating shows, including Coronation Street, Emmerdale, The Cube and The Graham Norton Show.

However, with the likes of Vincent Browne remaining top of its billing and the move to a HD studio (finally) we may see TV3 battle to the bitter end in what may turn out be an insurmountable task.

While UTV’s massive financial backing may be enough to subdue TV3, the Irish taxpayer will ensure that RTÉ will be more than securely backed to partake in some healthy competition in the Irish television market.

The public service broadcaster recently announced its autumn line-up with many highly-rated favourites returning and – indeed for RTÉ’s standards – some very different shows.

What can clearly be deduced from the launch of the line-up is that Tom Vaughan Lawlor, more commonly known as Nidge, is becoming a crucial member of RTÉ’s future.

The Love/Hate star is set to feature in the upcoming three-part drama ‘Charlie’ based around the notorious former Taoiseach.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen another long-time guest of the Late Late Show, Imelda May, promoted to being a host herself with her new show ‘The Imelda May Show’.

This, of course, means that the Late Late’s short guestlist is one shorter unless they resort to interviewing their own again. Don’t be surprised if we see that happening.

One thing that UTV and TV3 have over their publicly funded counterpart is ruthlessness. While RTÉ should have it, they simply don’t; for years we’ve watched newsreaders flounder live on-air while political debates have often skewed out of control and neither have led to professional casualties within the station.

With the incoming missile that is UTV Ireland, it may force both RTÉ and TV3 to up their game. Pat Kenny’s switch to Newstalk did see people gradually change over too but not to the extent that was expected. However a much quicker exodus can be expected on television with a new exciting channel rearing its ambitious head.

Michael Cogley

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