Television in Ireland is available through a variety of platforms. The digital terrestrial television service is known as Saorview and is the primary source of broadcast television and digital satellite (from BSkyB & Freesat) and Cable (from UPC) are also widely used.
The Irish satellite fill-in service Saorsat (Freesat) is available from Eutelsat KA-SAT 9A using the Irish ka-Band spotbeam.
While many people still receive their television via Saorview, run by RTÉ Network Limited more than half subscribe to multichannel television networks.
The biggest single multichannel television network in Ireland is Sky, owned and operated by BSkyB, which broadcasts digital satellite television services. UPC Ireland, Magnet Networks and Smart Vision, among others, provide similar digital television services to Irish viewers.
Broadcasting in Northern Ireland is governed under United Kingdom law.
The British Broadcasting Corporation operates a national region in Northern Ireland, known as BBC Northern Ireland, and one member of the BBC Trust is designated Trustee for Northern Ireland. The Office of Communications regulates the commercial broadcasting sector in Northern Ireland.
TV licence in Ireland
In Ireland, a television licence is required for any address at which there is a television set. In 2014, the annual licence fee is €160.
Revenue is collected by An Post, the Irish postal service.
The bulk of the fee is used to fund Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the state broadcaster. The licence must be paid for any premises that has any equipment that can potentially decode TV signals, even those that are not RTÉ’s.
The licence is free to anyone over the age of 70, some over 66, some Social Welfare recipients, and the blind. The fee for the licences of such beneficiaries is paid for by the state. The current governing legislation is the Broadcasting Act 2009, in particular Part 9 “Television Licence” and Chapter 5 “Allocation of Public Funding to RTÉ and TG4”. Devices which stream television via internet do not need licenses, nor do small portable devices such as mobile phones.
The current government plans to replace the television licence with a Public Service Broadcasting Charge on all primary residences and certain businesses.
A public consultation document on the plan was published in August 2013.
Asked in December 2014 about the delay in switching from the licence to the new charge, Minister of State Joe McHugh said the government would “be taking more time to work out a very complex system”. As of 2016 the proposal has been shelved indefinitely though may be examined again by the incoming government.
Public service channels are carried by RTÉ Network Limited, covering 98% of the country.
The Irish system, being used by both 2RN and any subsequent commercial DTT provider is a MPEG-4 DVB-T service with an MHEG-5 interactive layer.
RTÉ Television were awarded a licence to operate a single multiplex, with a second multiplex to follow once analogue broadcasting ceased after 24 October 2012. Other possible services to launch on the second multiplex include additional services from TV3 such as TV3HD, TV3+1, 3Kids and 3Classics and additional channels from RTÉ such as an arts channel and music channel.
The Broadcasting Act 2009 provided provision for the launch of two additional public services. These include an Oireachtas Channel and an Irish Film Channel.
The launch date for these services are unknown. The Irish Film Board will oversee operation for the Irish Film Channel.
By 2012, SAORVIEW offered 98% coverage for all channels. Similar services such as Saorview available in the United Kingdom (Freeview) and other parts of Europe are not compatible with Ireland’s DTT service.
Saorview is Ireland’s national DTT service. The Irish word Saor means free, thereby mirroring a common name of DTT services in many regions, Freeview, through a mix of the English and Irish languages. Saorview is available from 64 DTT transmitters covering 98% of the population as of the end of Q3 2012.
The service is a DVB-T/MPEG-4 HD broadcast that is received via set top box (STB) receiver or iDTV and UHF aerial is required. MHEG-5 is the middleware standard for digital teletext. Programme information is displayed through the receiver’s own inbuilt EPG. Either DVB or Teletext subtitling can be displayed when broadcast.
A DVB-T/MPEG-4 HD set top box (STB) receiver or iDTV and UHF aerial will be required. MHEG-5 has been selected as the middleware standard for digital teletext, Saorview branded EPG and interactive services. For non MHEG-5 compatible receivers regular analogue TV teletext will continue to be available and programme information will be displayed through the receiver’s own inbuilt EPG. Either DVB or Teletext subtitling can be displayed when broadcast.
Saorview in Northern Ireland
Viewers in the Northern Ireland can receive a number of channels broadcast in the Republic of Ireland, including TG4 and RTÉ One RTÉ Two, TG4 and RTÉ Raidio na Gaeltachta.
The multiplex (NiMux) broadcasts in DVB-T2, the same parameters used by Freeview HD and is available to 90% of viewers in Northern Ireland. Other areas are covered by overspill from the Irish Republic and by Saorsat which covers almost the whole of Ireland.
SAORSAT is the name given to the infill free-to-air satellite television service put in place by RTÉNL to deliver Irish television services to the 1% to 2% of homes that are not covered by the SAORVIEW Digital Terrestrial Television service.
Due to the topography of Ireland, some areas have always been impossible to reach via terrestrial transmissions. This is because terrestrial signals need a line of sight and cannot, for example, go through mountains or deep down into valleys.
Therefore, SAORSAT was launched to provide free-to-air access to television services via satellite for the 2% of households who are not able to receive Saorview.
The TV channels available on SAORSAT are RTÉ One, RTÉ2 HD, RTÉ News Now, RTÉjr, RTÉ One +1 and TG4, together with RTÉ’s radio stations and digital Aertel.
The RTÉ services on SAORSAT are exactly the same as those on SAORVIEW.
The facility for other channels to be carried on the service is available but is a business decision for other broadcasters to make.
SAORSAT is available on the Eutelsat KA-SAT 9A, which is a narrow-band satellite with a footprint on the island of Ireland. To receive SAORSAT, you will need a satellite dish equipped with a Ka band LNB and a DVB-S2, SAORSAT set-top-box. 2RN recommends that anyone wishing to access the SAORSAT service should seek the advice of a specialist satellite installer.
Prior to Sky Digital, cable television was the most common system for distributing multi-channel television in Ireland. With more than 40 years of history and extensive networks of both wired and “wireless” cable, Ireland is amongst the most cabled countries in Europe. Forty percent of Irish homes received cable television in September 2006. The figure dropped slightly in the early years of the 21st century due to the increased popularity of satellite reception, notably Sky, but has stabilised recently.
In Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, which formally traded under the brand names Chorus NTL and UPC Ireland, is by far the largest cable and MMDS operator, owning all of the state’s MMDS licences and almost all of the state’s cable TV operators. Virgin Media offers analogue and digital cable television services in cities and towns throughout the country (with the exception of Cork, where the network is digital-only).
It offers MMDS services in rural areas. Other than Virgin Media, the only other operators providing analogue and digital cable systems are Crossan CableComm which operates in Longford, Smyths Cablevision, which operates in Cavan, and Casey Cablevision which operates in Dungarvan, County Waterford.
The Republic of Ireland has five national radio stations: RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm, RTÉ lyric fm, and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta are operated by RTÉ Radio, while Today FM is a commercial radio station operated by Denis Obrien group communicorp.
Newstalk 106, a Dublin local station, has been issued a “quasi-national” FM licence, and a similarly limited AM licence has been advertised for a religious service, presumably to quell the rising amounts of religious stations on Irish pirate radio. A “multi-city” service, consisting of one ILR franchise operating a single service in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford, has been awarded to 4FM which is expected to launch in early 2009.
The BCI’s main commercial radio service is the Independent Local Radio network. This consists of 18 commercial stations licensed for different franchise areas. Except in Dublin and Cork, they operate as monopolies. (6, soon to be 7 stations are now licensed in Dublin and 2 in Cork). They operate a common news service, Independent Network News, and a common sales house, Independent Radio Sales. The first of these stations, FM104, came on air in 1989. One independent regional radio station, Beat 102.
DAB was launched to the public on 30 November 2006, with trials taking place in 1998, 2001 and 2006. Currently, 56% of Ireland’s population – mainly in Counties Cork, Limerick and the North East – can receive permanent DAB services.
One permanent multiplex exists, operated by the national broadcaster RTÉ. The service began to be marketed in May 2007 by a collective of commercial broadcasters, receivers are now sold by most major electronics retailers.
21 services were available in Dublin, surrounding areas and the north-east, and 11 were available in other coverage areas during the trial phase.
A temporary licensed trial multiplex began transmission using block 9B in April 2010. It is operated by Total Broadcast Consultants Ltd. Initially it covered the Waterford City area and from mid May, expanded to cover much of the South East of Ireland.