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Interview: TG4 Pádhraic Ó Ciardha On The Station's Ever Evolving Future
30 Aug 2012 : By Eva Hall
Pádhraic Ó Ciardha
As Ireland’s only station dedicated to the Irish language, TG4 kicked off its new autumn schedule with a host of new Irish-based and Irish-made documentaries, as well as a number of new entertainment and reality-based shows.

The station’s deputy chief executive Pádhraic Ó Ciardha was on hand to explain how the once rural-only station is rocketing into the 21st century, with a number of HD, online and modern-based shows and themes. The Galway native explains how the average television viewer in Ireland has more options available to them to access television than ever before: “Your average Irish television consumer now has so many more ways of accessing television content and has so many more channels to access content from, so the challenge for us (TG4) is obviously to try and retain a space somewhere in there.

“I guess the autumn launch is a timely time to consider where television is at in Ireland at the moment, and that’s an ever-changing picture given all the technology and HD and new choices.”

TG4 has managed to carve itself a niche in the Irish broadcasting market; it remains to this day the only Irish-language broadcaster in the country, and since its establishment in 1996, the station has managed to retain one of the longest running soaps in history (Ros na Rún initially aired on RTÉ), develop a news feed with TG4 Nuacht, and reach out to young audiences with entertainment shows such as ‘Paisean Faisean’, ‘Pop 4’ and ‘Ponc’. It also created a new breed of Irish television talent, from the Seoige sisters to ‘The Voice’ co-host Eoghan McDermott, who have since gone on to launch international careers.

Now in 2012, although the station finds itself in as much financial difficulty as any other Irish-based media outlet, Ó Ciardha says it is looking to the future in a positive way by moving with the times: “I think the coming years are going to be very very difficult, but just as you have challenges, on the other hand you've opportunities. So for instance, having a player (TG4 online player) means that people in San Francisco can watch TG4 in real time in a way that they couldn't 10 years ago.

You also have things like people making recordings in Ireland of our content and sending those recordings out to other countries, and then people gather in front of two screens simultaneously watching the same content on two different continents. Irish is moving with the times.”

With the digital switchover scheduled for October 24, Saorview is launching nationwide campaigns to inform the public of the process, focusing especially on the rural community, once a community TG4 relied on: “All viewers in Ireland that access their television by an aerial are going to have to change to digital in the next 10 weeks if they haven't already, that is an absolute fact. I think the rural viewers are just as savvy as the urban viewers about how their viewing choices are, so people are availing of the opportunity to either buy a new telly that has a Saorview receiver inbuilt into it or buying a Saorview box, which converses our existing telly into a Saorview receiver.

“Whether or not it will persuade more people to move from terrestrial to satellite I don't know. I don't think it will affect us greatly, I think it will be just yet another change like the change from black and white to colour.”

For those who have terrestrial viewing only, TG4 is known for premiering US series’ on Irish television before RTÉ or TV3. Are hit shows like ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘True Blood’ keeping its viewership alive?

“Obviously those high mark, high profile international drama series particularly from the US, are very popular, and particularly the fact that we show them before anybody else means that their devotees come to TG4. They may not come for much else, but of course the challenge for us is to try and persuade them, having come from ‘Breaking Bad’, that they'll watch a documentary afterwards or watch a traditional music session. But in a way that's no different to competing with any other channel as well. We use our public funding only for Irish language content, we use our commercial revenues to get series’ like that and the object of those series’ is to get more people to access the channel in order that they can watch the Irish language content. So that is the process of those, but we're happy that people watch them.”

TG4’s latest autumn schedule kicks off from September 6, with the 17th series of ‘Ros na Rún’ airing at 8.30pm. Viewers can expect a number of Irish-made productions, including new reality show ‘Jockey Eile’, presented by Seán Bán Breathnach, Sé Merry Doyle’s ‘John Ford: Dreaming the Quiet Man’ documentary, and music show ‘Ceol ar an Imeall’, presented by Úna Mullally.

“Because of our size and scale and linguistic remit, we probably have no option but to be very much at home with what our audience thinks. We're a rural based station, we're not headquartered in a large city on a large campus with thousands of people, we're a very small lead, based in the middle of the Connemara Gaeltacht. So if you're getting it right you tend to find out about it very quickly, and if you're getting it wrong you tend to find out about it very quickly as well. I think that's one of the things, you have to be in tine with what your audience needs,” says Ó Ciardha.

See photos from the TG4 autumn launch at the Convention Centre in Dublin on August 29 here.



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