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Sasko Lazarov

Willie O'Reilly 'Issues around replacing Ryan Tubridy have cast RTÉ in a poor light'

The former group commercial director of RTÉ looks at the rocky process at Montrose as they work to find a new Late Late Show host.

LAST UPDATE | 9 May 2023

RTÉ IS HAVING a fit of the vapours as it experiences more arrivals and departures than Dublin Airport. It may just have averted disaster to one of its flagship shows as speculation grows today that Patrick Kielty, the County Down entertainer could soon be announced as the new presenter of the Late Late Show. Again, speculation, but to wait any longer will risk a crash landing and substantial damage to RTÉ’s reputation.

Earlier this year Moya Doherty the RTÉ chairperson announced her departure having served two terms. She will soon be followed by Dee Forbes the station’s Director General. At arrivals, we have new Chairperson Siún Ní Raghallaigh, to be followed thereafter by new DG Kevin Bakhurst, successful in his application albeit the second time around.

In the meantime, Ryan Tubridy shocked the nation by announcing he’s stepping down from the station’s most coveted presenting job, the Late Late Show. And as if all of this wasn’t enough Caitriona Perry, star of the Six One News has announced she’s jetting off to Washington DC to become the BBC’s correspondent in the US capital.

While all of this is happening a suite of respected women journalists rejected any idea of them stepping in to present the Late Late Show. ‘To lose one presenter may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four, and in public, looks like carelessness’ to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.

Pressure on

The atmosphere in Donnybrook must be febrile. While the executive changes will bed in during the summer and Caitriona Perry’s departure will allow some internal promotion the confluence of changes and in particular the issues around replacing Ryan Tubridy threw the Public Service Broadcaster in a poor light.

The failure to decisively appoint a successor was damaging to the brand and confidence in station management.

The Late Late Show which for so long was a defining feature of the Irish broadcasting scene became a defining issue for RTÉ management. The decision on the new presenter is no longer just about the show, it has become about management’s ability to manage. It has threatened to overshadow all of RTÉ’s other output.

Does it matter? Does anyone watch the Late Late Show anymore? I mean, it’s so last century. Everyone cuddling up in front of the telly for a cheap night in, hoping for a laugh, an insight and a piece of music. Surely no one does that anymore. Do they?

The answer is simple. People do and in the hundreds of thousands. Despite the wide choice of media, both broadcast and social, The Late Late Show remains an institution that many want to be part of. Everyone knows how successful the Toy Show special is with audiences of well over a million but even the regular run-of-the-mill show attracts large audiences of half a million or so. Its online presence is also sizeable, driving business to many of the redtops and the digital media that feast on its entrails.

Advertisers want these audiences too. They prefer sending their commercial messages to people who are comfortable, attentive and generally in a positive mood. It’s these people who are most likely to engage with the message and even act on it. It’s why they are increasingly suspicious of large parts of social media which is often aggressive and bitchy.

RTÉ in flux

The RTÉ executives will not yet have had a good night’s sleep until they come up with an answer. It’s a pressure pot that needs to be released quickly. They could have created a bit of space and slowed the process until the story died down a bit. But that wouldn’t have pleased the RTÉ Board or advertisers, never mind audiences.

The Board would hate uncertainty and would want an answer before the launch of the autumn schedule. Advertisers want to know before they commit their budgets and will want to be comforted that the values of the show will remain largely the same.

The show makes a valuable contribution to RTÉ bottom line, variously estimated at around €20 million per annum. Getting the decision wrong or leaving it too long will tarnish many reputations as well as leave a hole in the finances.

One of the curious developments amid all the chaos is that the role probably became more open to men. With three male presenters to date, a fourth might have had a whiff of misogyny. However, with Miriam O’Callaghan, Claire Byrne and Sarah McInerney all withdrawing from the contest the net, it seems, has been cast wider. Enter Mr Kielty.

The bookies, ever with a finger to the way the wind is blowing, have also realised this. That’s why Brendan O’Connor and Patrick Kielty both had shortened odds.

Let’s be honest, the whole caper has added to the gaiety of the nation and we’ve all had a laugh at the twists and turns of the story. But getting the ending right for RTÉ is now crucial. It will affect its standing with the Irish public and it will also shape the careers of some of its decision-makers.

Willie O’Reilly has over 30 years of experience working in public and private media and is a former group commercial director at RTÉ. He is also the former chief executive of Today FM and worked as executive producer of the Gerry Ryan Show on RTÉ.

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