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Is it too Late Late?
RTE pins its hopes on a reboot...
Friday evening saw Ireland’s State Broadcaster RTE put its best foot forward with a reboot for the world’s longest running weekly chat show, The Late Late Show.
It’s only had 4 full time hosts (all men), although Miriam O’Callaghan did do an emergency episode during the pandemic.
Each and every man on the show up until now, Gay Byrne, Pat Kenny and Ryan Tubridy came to it from a flagship RTE radio show and so had a familiarity for the audience from their first moment on screen.
But the new host Patrick Kielty is quite a different kettle of fish. He’s had a credible career in the UK, on TV and on Radio, he’s been an actor, he’s made documentaries and he’s a stand up comedian.
So, by the Late Late standards, he’s probably a touch over qualified.
His first show aired on Friday after a summer of chaos for State Broadcaster which saw the RTE management team dragged before parliamentary committees and a high profile split from previous Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy.
A solid start…
So, I guess all of that to one side, the question is, how did the new Late Late show host do?
Firstly, in terms of audience numbers, it was probably a success, close to a million live viewers, with almost 200,000 more battling to watch it on the notoriously unreliable RTE player.
That compares pretty well to about half a million per show for the final season with Ryan Tubridy, but as we all know one show does not make a season and the real test is whether or not a significant number of the Week 1 audience will return for a second helping.
Kielty himself seemed both oddly nervous and polished at the same time, he and the RTE social media team played a clever game in the build up with plenty of well put together video content and behind the scenes moments. But it still felt a little hollow at it’s centre.
The guest list was certainly unspectacular, it’s hard to know whether that’s because RTE budget cuts mean even a Ryanair flight for a UK celebrity is beyond the limits of the new cash strapped broadcaster, or whether the show and the station have become tainted and difficult to secure big names for.
By and large the guests were all RTE related, with the exception of former President Mary McAleese and Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean. So, at times, it did feel like a meeting in the RTE canteen.
What is the purpose of the show now?
The problem is partly that despite a new set and a new host, the show is floundering as it tries to address different generational expectations.
For the older end of the audience, it was a highlight of the week, the big show, big name guests, up close and personal and real social impact in terms of some of the topics that the show addressed.
For my generation, it was a curiosity, if there was something sensational, it was at least a talking point during the week… But for today’s younger viewers, the fact that it’s on linear broadcast TV probably makes it utterly irrelevant.
So, who is it aimed at now? The Nursing Home crowd, who don’t spend money? The Mums and Dads of Teens who do spend money? Certainly not the actual teens, who are far too busy on TikTok.
And what is its purpose anymore? It’s not at the centre of a national conversation, it doesn’t even manage to generate the fun and entertainment that something like Graham Norton’s BBC show does. It’s not packed with stars, it’s not socially meaningful.
It’s just a 90 minute show on a Friday night, sadly, but a slightly better one than last season.
The danger ahead…
I think there’s a warning note for radio here too.
We often talk about “watercooler” moments, well, not often, but I think most radio stations aspire to having a moment that becomes something more, a moment that connects an audience and inspires them to discuss what they just heard.
It’s a sense of community, pulled together by the fact that radio is broadcast to a wide audience, that you can say to your work colleague, “did you hear what PJ Gallagher has been up to?”, or “that woman on Liveline was unbelievable”.
I think though, those moments are slipping away. We all listen in increasingly different ways, on smart speakers, to podcasts, to catch up services, we don’t have to depend on a linear broadcast stream anymore.
The thing that has probably fatally wounded television is coming for radio.
That was brought home to me by a comment in a recent Irish Times article, breezily dropped in by the Head of 2FM, that “FM radio probably has a solid ten years left”.
That’s quite shocking in a way. Ireland has no DAB plan, the most likely option after FM would be streamed services, no sense of community, no broadcast backbone. And that feels like it’s a massive shift in the industry.
With my podcasting hat on, I can see that individual shows and personalities survive and thrive in a world without a broadcast platform. But it’s a totally different mindset, business model and really a much more individual space.
If radio has to survive in a competitive streaming environment without it’s traditional advantages, like FM broadcast, like the radio in your kitchen, or being the only entertainment in your car, how would it do?
I’m not sure. But I don’t think anyone is really thinking about it either. Apart from the Head of RTE 2FM I guess.
This has been the 13th official edition of the RAudio Newsletter
Just to recap, each week I’ll be taking a look at big stories in radio, podcasting and audio.
Any feedback, questions or potential topics are welcome – you can get me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/liamthompsonconsulting/ or on Twitter @Maxliam