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Interview: TG4's Rónán Ó Coisdealbha On Why Armchair Sports Fans Will Keep Winning
01 Oct 2012 : By Steve Cummins
Rónán Ó Coisdealbha
Rónán Ó Coisdealbha has been the head of sport at TG4 since 1999 and has helped the broadcaster acquire the rights to a number of the world’s top sporting events. He is a current member of the TG4 board.

How did you get to your current position with TG4?
After college I completed a television production course with RTÉ Training/Údarás na Gaeltachta. After this course and various short stints freelancing and working in Galway I joined independent production company Nemeton in 1996. I worked for Nemeton TV Productions in Waterford for three years and in 1999 I joined TG4.

What’s the most recent sporting event you’ve acquired the rights to and why?
The 2012 World Handball Championships which will be held in Dublin in October. We will be showing various highlights programmes from this event. It will be great as more than 2,000 players will participate in various grades at the purpose built arena in the Citywest Arena. Handball is growing very fast in this country and over 3,000 fans will pack into the arena to see these Championships. I feel it’s important that Irish viewers get the opportunity to see these Championships.

What’s the most recent sports documentary you’ve commissioned and why?
We are currently awaiting the results to several BAI proposals, but the most recent sports documentaries going to air are ‘The West’s Awake’ (Documentary on Connacht Rugby), ‘Cnoc 16’ (Documentary on Hill 16 in Croke Park) and ‘Rás Tailteann’ (History of the Rás race). These are all fascinating stories and documentaries such as these gives viewers an insight into our history and culture.

The competition among broadcasters for sports rights is notoriously fierce, how do you ensure TG4 can compete with bigger stations?
As a terrestrial broadcaster we can offer maximum exposure and coverage to homes all over the country. This is an advantage we have as a broadcaster while satellite and cable channels don’t have the same reach. Most sporting bodies who sell their rights to television companies such as TG4 feel it is important the entire population can see their product. We work very closely with the various sports organizations we currently have contracts with to ensure that we have a good relationship with them. We also work with their sponsors and other relevant parties on issues such as PR and Marketing, while continuing to provide high production values in our sports coverage.

What’s the biggest single aspect of the television industry that has changed since you started your career?
The amount of television stations now available to viewers in Ireland or the “digital jungle” as we tend to call it. Nowadays, there is a large amount of satellite, cable and online channels available to viewers compared to 1996 when TnaG came on air. This creates competition for the broadcasters but also consumers now have more choice in what they want to watch.

What are you looking for when commissioning sports documentaries from independent producers?
Súil Eile or an alternative view. A good story which should be insightful and told in a visual way with good content and high production values. We accept ideas and proposals which are innovative and creative. The core objective of TG4 is to commission television output of quality and integrity in the Irish language that reflects and echoes contemporary changing Ireland and also resonates with the national culture, heritage and history.

What would you like to see more of?
Minority sports getting more exposure on television and major live sporting events continuing on terrestrial television. While major sporting events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup continue to be broadcast on terrestrial television, I feel it’s important that matches played by various Irish teams in international competitions are seen on free-to-air television. It’s vital that the next generation of young sports fans get to see their national heroes playing for their country.

What’s your proudest commission/acquisition and why?
To be honest, there are a few! Acquiring UEFA Cup soccer matches in 2004 was a big step for TG4 and the Barcelona v Celtic match was a coup for us at the time and garnered seriously high viewership figures. Live sport is important to our schedule and I’m proud of TG4’s current sports agreements with organisations such as the GAA, RaboDirect PRO12 and ERC Rugby. Our sponsorship of the TG4 Ladies Football Championships is going from strength to strength while summer 2012 was exciting due to our coverage of the Volvo Ocean Race finish in Galway, Tour de France and Wimbledon Tennis. I’m also very proud of the fact that we give sports such as motorsport, rallying, greyhound racing, handball, sailing and other sports that don’t get much exposure the air time they deserve.

British Telecom entering the TV sports rights market in the UK has made huge headlines. Are you concerned other non-broadcast companies may soon compete for Irish sporting rights in this new digital era?
I am not overly concerned at present but you are always conscious of where competition can develop from in this digital era. At the end of the day, a terrestrial broadcaster can guarantee sports federations/organisations the maximum amount of exposure, reach, publicity and coverage which is an issue that has to be taken into consideration when selling sports rights to any platform or company.

Sporting events broadcast in 3D – a fad or something viewers will see more of in the coming years?
It’s hard to say. Sports viewers are happy with HD at the moment without having to purchase a 3D television and the various subscription charges which various companies charge for 3D channels. The next 12 months will be interesting as we will see Ireland’s old analogue TV network switching off, various brands pushing sales of HD televisions and Sky TV pushing their various 3D packages.

The future of sports on television is…
For broadcasters it will be challenging, ever changing and competitive. For armchair sports fans, there will be more choice as sports events will be broadcast by terrestrial channels, online channels, satellite and cable channels. Emerging specialized sports channels online will create more competition with traditional mainstream broadcasters.


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