Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Digital Switchover

On 24 October analogue transmissions will cease. The digital switchover will mean that RTÉ1, RTÉ2 & TG4 will be freely available throughout all of Northern Ireland.

Those living close to the border will receive RTÉ One, RTÉ Two HD, TV3, TG4, 3e, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr and RTÉ One +1 through Saorview/Freeview approved set top boxes or TV sets. Those living further afield where Freeview HD-capable set top boxes or TV sets are unable to receive southern transmissions will receive RTÉ 1, RTÉ2 & TG4.

It is unfortunate that viewers in locations far from the border will not have channels TV3, 3e, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr and RTÉ One +1 on Freeview. RTÉ1, RTÉ2 and TG4 will however be available from transmitters on Black Mountain, Carnmoney Hill and Brougher Mountain. Even so some sports programmes and films may be unavailable to them due to rights restrictions.

Despite this the benefits that the digital switchover will bring cannot be underestimated:

"RTÉ should grow from being the state broadcaster of the south to the national broadcaster of Ireland. People north and south will be able to watch the same programmes, follow the same stories, and interact with each other through panel shows and feedback. It will contribute in a small way to removing some remaining barriers. Once digital TV arrives everyone in Ireland will have equal access to the same broadcasters, and the carefully erected partition of the media will be over" (Horseman February 2010).

RTÉ gaining 1.8 million extra viewers will certainly encourage the broadcaster to include much more Northern topics in it's news and current affairs programmes which should strenghten connections and lead to better understanding among all people in Ireland.

The free availability of TG4 in particular will help Nationalists in their Irish language strategy and push for an Irish Language Act to be introduced.



  2. This would be big news, were it not that most people in Northern Ireland can already receive RTÉ/TG4 on their TVs and RTÉ radio signals are even better. Yet, for the most part, people in Northern Ireland don't seem to watch these southern Irish services very often.

    RTÉ is, was, and will remain the state broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland. Its programming currently shows this - it's geared towards the south - it focuses on the south. In fact, I feel that news reports about the north have decreased rather than increased within the past 5 years, despite more people in the north haing access than ever before.

    The simple truth is that a very large chunk of primetime TV in the Republic comes from the UK anyway. The advances in technological proliferation (eg. more people having digital TV, and internet TV) in recent years and in availability of UK channels in the ROI (not to mention veiwing figures within the ROI) indicate than Southern Irish people are watching more and more UK programmes, whereas the growth of Southern Irish TV in this region of the UK is significantly less. In short, they're watching more of our TV, not the reverse.

    RTÉ won't be gaining 1.8 million new viewers. The reality is that the figure is a graction of that. And, indeed, there will unfortunately still be some areas of northern Ireland that shan't get RTÉ, such as geographically isolated parts of counties Antrim and Down (and perhaps other counties, but on a much more localised scale), for instance the Glens of Antrim.

    The availability of TG4 does nothing of the sort - it almost guantantees that Gaelic speakers in the 6 counties won't have their own TV channel. TG4, like RTÉ is equally as biased towards the south as RTÉ.

    In Scotland they have BBC Alba, in Wales there's S4C, S4C Digidol. The Republic of Ireland has the dedicated TG4 service, and its increased availability in Northern Ireland will allow opponents of an Irish language channel in northern Ireland to say that their needs are already catered for. That is akin to closing all BBC Scotland's opperations and broadcasting BBC Wales's output in its place.

    It will do nothing for an Irish Language Act. Conterproductively it will lessen such an Act's remit over broadcasting. This would put northern Ireland's Gaelic speaking community at a disadvantage in comparison to other devolved regions in the UK.

    And, needless to day, the automatic association between "Nationalists" and "their Irish language strategy" is lazy, and helps not a single iota towards the genuine normalisation of the language throughout all communities here - just like in Scot/Wal/ROI.


  3. Thanks for the post Jay.

    It may possible for most people to receive RTÉ/TG4. However this is different to these channels being freely available.

    Agreed RTÉ is geared to the south. Free availability in all 32 counties may force news and current affairs programmes to look northwards. Sport programmes already do. An Ulster Championship game is just as likely to be broadcast as Munster Championship game.

    Agreed Irish people watch alot of UK TV. My significant other watches english soaps (on TV3 and RTE 1) and I watch sports on sky and MOTD on BBC. However most of what I watch on TV is on the saorview channels.

    As for remote areas of the North that will not be able to received saorview channels, I expect this to be temporary.

    I disagree with your assertion that this will do nothing for the Irish language. I would argue that most Irish language enthusiasts would prefer a 32 county orientated TG4 rather than a new 6 county based Irish channel and a 26 county oriented TG4.

  4. Hi Enda.

    The signal is being changed for 4 key groups;

    (i) some people who currently receive RTÉ via annalogue alone will contunue to receive it, but with certain programmes cut out due to rights etc. RTÉ will also now have to compete with many other new channels, thus reducing its dominance in the market for these viewers.

    (ii) For people who cannot receive RTÉ via annalogue but who can receive it via satalite/digital these changes will have no impact whatsoever. Except that perhaps they shall gain a handful of other channels, which will, just as the above group, reduce RTÉ's ratings.

    (iii) A great deal of people who cannot receive RTÉ via annalogue now and who don't receive it via cable/digital shall start to receive it after switchover for the first time ever. This is RTÉ's big gain. However, dozens of other new channels will cimultaneously become available to these viewers as well so RTÉ will have to compete in a whole new market. We'll see how they do.

    (iv) Some isolated parts of NI, particularly in northern and eastern Co. Antrim shall continue not having access to RTÉ, except if they have digital/cable. They shall carry on as normal with regard to the Republic's national broadcaster. With no tangible commitment at all from RTÉ or Ofcom to ensure that people in these isolated parts get RTÉ, I shan't hold my breath.

    I haven't seen the amount of potential new viewers. It probably numbers in the hundreds of thousands, though that's not much more than a guess. I'm also going to guess that the majority of new viewers are to be unionist and so probably aren't interested in ROI news etc.

    I agree that it would be better for ROI to focus more attention on the UK, specifically NI. But that hasn't been the case to date, indeed if anything within the past 5 years it's been the opposite. With citizens from 3 Ulster counties paying for RTÉ I would be shocked if RTÉ were to contemplate not broadcasting the Ulster Final. The fact is they always have. There's nothing new in that.

    By the end of their month they will have strengthened their signal in many areas of the UK. But it'll be a new market place with far more competition that just other Saorview channels. In sports terms, if they really wanted to do something specifically Northern, they'd focus on the Irish League or the equivalent, which in the past they have been reluctant to do. Indeed if you want sports news for NI and ROI football it's the BBC you're looking for there!

    I'd like RTÉ to become more Northern, but I suspect it'll just be more of the same.

  5. I agree that most Gaelic speakers here in Northern Ireland want an all-Ireland Gaelic channel. Pobal carried out research about this several years ago and found the vast majority of responent to prefer that to a 6 county based channel. I accept that. But It does do nothing for the fledging Gaelic TV industry here.

    TG4 is more all-Ireland in its ownlook than RTÉ, but it's still the ROI's channel and orientates itself accordingly. There's no intention within the Executive to increase funding for the ILBF which works a lot with TG4 - the irony being that UK taxpayers money that is meant to be spent on promoting Gaelic TV in Northern Ireland has been spent on making programmes for around about the past 6 years for a channel which until October 2012 hasn't been available to many residents of NI (including Irish speakers) and only started broadcasting in the UK for the first time a couple of years ago.

    In my opinion that money would have been better spent by ensuring that all ILBF programming was available on either BBC N Ireland or some kind of new BBC Éire service for N Ireland akin to BBC Alba in Scotland. This would have ensure more people in N Ireland would have had acccess to the programming which, frankly, they're paying for. If that material were to be thereafter sold on to TG4, that would be fine, naturally.

    A dedicated Northern Irish based BBC N Ireland Irish language service would give a massive boost to the independent television production industry in Belfast and elsewhere in the North. ATM all the focus is in Conamara (and perhaps Dublin) - so much so that many of the Irish language prgrammes produced and filmed in N Ireland for the ILBF are edited in Galway. Such a service is far more viable than BBC Alba and would provide more content in Ulster Irish, with a decidated focus on Northern news, views and events.

    Extending TG4 into N Ireland as is to happen in 2012 shall do nothing for the Irish language in N Ireland, safe raise the number of people in N Ireland who can look at Southern Irish Gaelic TV production, which is clearly not as high quality as a BBC/UK-based alternative. Money for the language should be spent more carefully. The language is underfunded to the tune of millions every year in comparison to Cymraeg and Gàidhlig. The UK government justify this by saying "oh well, they can watch the southern stuff". That's simply not good enough. Extending a ROI service into the North for ideological reasons which doesn't cater for the needs of northern viewers shows a disregard for the Irish-speaking community here. Expecting Southern Irish people to pay TG4 to alter the nature of its service to focus more on Northern Ireland is equally not a solution.

    Most of your personal viewing is on Saorview. I don't mean in any way to belittle that, but it is the exception rather than the norm. I usually channel surf all the channels and whenever Eastenders comes on my mother's eye become glued to the tv. I usually immediately leave the room, but before doing so she always insists that I change it to BBC1 - and this woman was born and raised in S Armagh. Because the visual quality is better and there aren't any adverts.

    Unless one is really dedicated to the 'all-Ireland cause' I can't see any major shift in viewing practises after switchover.