Two weeks ago, the Irish Examiner newspaper reported that RTE was axing it's morning news programme Morning Edition. It was one of those moves that came as a surprise, as it wasn't particularly signposted that such a move was about to happen. But frankly, the whole issue of Morning Edition, was a series of bad moves and mistakes from start to finish. RTE shouldn't be cancelling the programme, but it made a lot of mistakes in its creation too.
The whole situation dates back to the 1980s, when ITV and BBC created breakfast shows, TV-am and Breakfast Time. It was expected that RTE would follow their British neighbours lead and create their own breakfast television programme. But battles between RTE and the broadcasting unions in Ireland kept such a programme off the air for many many years.
Meanwhile, TV3, which itself got off to a slow start, getting licenced in 1989, and not launching until 1998 (and that's a long story in itself), launched its own breakfast show, Ireland AM, in 1999. And since then, Ireland AM has become the default television choice for audiences at breakfast time. On Radio, that honour goes to Morning Ireland, RTE Radio 1's equivalent of Radio 4's Today programme.
So, there you have the basic situation. TV3 proud of Ireland AM, one of the few things they can be justifiably proud of, and RTE proud of Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1. In fact, they're so proud of it, they put cameras in the radio studio and stream the show on RTE News Now. So, with Ireland AM airing from 7am to 10am, RTE wanted to compete, but not to detract from Morning Ireland, which airs between 7am and 9am.
So, they created "Morning Edition", which aired for 2 hours from 9am to 11am on both RTE 1 and RTE News Now. It was announced back in October 2012, and launched on January 28th 2013. Visually, and format wise, it looked and felt like a breakfast programme. With news summaries at the top and bottom of each hour, and the newspaper review, and orange tint, and lighter general tone, it has more in common with breakfast programmes than with the daytime hours that the show occupied.
So, why was it airing at 9am, instead of at 7am, as it should have been? The only answer that made any sense, was fear. Fear of failing against Ireland AM, and fear of cannibalising the Morning Ireland audience on RTE Radio 1.So, it was a good show, in the wrong slot. Too late in the morning, airing after the audience was gone. Gone to work, gone to school, and gone to TV3 for Ireland AM.
It was the one time RTE truly needed to compete with TV3, and they didn't. And then TV3 effectively stuck the knife in deeper, by extending Ireland AM To 10:45, although this was mostly in response to the cancellation of The Morning Show with Sybil & Martin, which had launched in 2009, airing live on weekdays at 11am. It had been launched as part of an overhaul of daytime programming, and had lasted about 4 years, before being cancelled in 2013. Ireland AM was extended out to 10.45am, and RTE's Morning Edition found itself in a hole.
It had not wanted to compete with Ireland AM, and now it was being forced to compete, against its wishes. And because it started two hours later than Ireland AM, Morning Edition had no chance. The content was great, it was just two hours too late. Moving it to 8am, would have helped a little bit, would have taken away some of Ireland AM's lead, and it would have been a proper breakfast show, albeit a slightly late one, but workable as a breakfast slot. But 9am just isn't workable as a time for a breakfast show, which Morning Edition, really was.
So, RTE decide to cancel Morning Edition, rather than move it, and risk cannibalising Morning Ireland's audience.
Except, that based on everything we've seen here in the UK, TV doesn't cannibalise Radio's audiences at Breakfast time. Radio's audience at breakfast has remained very strong. In fact, breakfast is still radio's most listened to timeslot. Breakfast television hasn't garnered anything like the kind of audience that breakfast radio has, but it has done well enough to make it profitable.
So, RTE's reason for not moving Morning Edition, has no actual basis in fact, and makes their decision to cancel the show seem very short sighted. What they are afraid of, doesn't happen. Radio listeners don't suddenly switch to TV, just because RTE One has a new breakfast programme. Today on Radio 4 didn't lose listeners because BBC One launched Breakfast Time in 1983. That audience is pretty fixed, they like Today, they don't want anything else, the competition can do what it wants, they're not going to move. A similar situation will apply to Morning Ireland. Their audience likes what Morning Ireland does, and that audience isn't going to suddenly evaporate away to TV, because TV has launched a new breakfast programme.
RTE needs to get its confidence back. They need to realise that they are playing for the long haul, not like TV3, living quarter to quarter, worrying about making more profits each quarter. Both companies feel under pressure with the arrival at the beginning of 2015 of UTV Ireland, which has taken a lot of programming from TV3. This won't directly affect Ireland AM, which has a steady 50,000 viewers and is produced by TV3 rather than bought in from ITV, which a lot of TV3 programmes have been. But, it could affect it indirectly, through increased cost of producing home-grown primetime programming, with less money potentially available for their breakfast programme.
No matter what happens with UTV Ireland and TV3, the cancelling of Morning Edition, has been one of the biggest mistakes that RTE has made, bigger than the mistake of putting it on at 9am. I hope that in cancelling it, they are working to bring a proper breakfast programme, starting at 6am or 6.30am, to RTE One, or at least, a breakfast sequence with half hourly news summaries, or at least, hourly news summaries, rather than teleshopping, and a repeat of a previous weekday's edition of a magazine show.
If they are so concerned about cannibalising Morning Ireland's radio audience, then make Morning Ireland, a joint radio/TV simulcast. Present it from the RTE News TV studio, studio 3 at Donnybrook, produce it in a very similar way to how Morning Edition has been produced, with the emphasis on guests and live material, rather than packages, and the programme would air on RTE One, RTE News Now (which is pretty standard for all RTE One News programmes), and RTE Radio 1.
Putting Morning Edition at 9am was a bad idea, but cancelling it now, is even worse, and as the old saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right.