As it happened: RTÉ faces questions on future of GAAGO at Oireachtas Media Committee

As It Happened: Rté Faces Questions On Future Of Gaago At Oireachtas Media Committee
Announcement of the 2023 GAAGO Fixtures & Presentation Team, Croke Park, Dublin 15/12/2022 Football analyst’s former Donegal player Michael Murphy, GAAGO Presenter Gráinne McElwain and former Kerry player Marc O’Se Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
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Sporting bodies and media firms, including RTÉ, appeared before the Oireachtas Media Committee on Wednesday to discuss the future of sports broadcasting and the controversy around the GAA streaming service, GAAGO.

Here's how the hearing unfolded:



Declan McBennett, RTÉ's group head of sport, confirmed he has not received any payment for his role as a director of GAAGO.

Mr McBennett again defended Kerry's absence from free-to-air television this season, suggesting bigs wins for Kerry against Tipperary and Louth justified the decision to air the fixtures on GAAGO.

The game against Cork was chosen by the GAA's CCCC to be shown GAAGO, while Mr McBennett added they could not have predicted Kerry would draw Mayo in the first game of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.



Paul Farrell, managing director of Virgin Media, said talks had taken place with the GAA over a shared broadcasting mode last June before the Sky deal expired.

Mr Farrell said he was surprised of the deal between RTÉ and GAAGO.



Declan McBennett, RTÉ's group head of sport, said the broadcaster has the ability to request games, but said the people who set the games are the GAA's CCCC.

He said RTÉ requested Kerry v Tyrone and Dublin v Mayo in the All-Ireland Senior Football quarter-finals, but Kerry v Tyrone was shown on GAAGO as it was on a Saturday.


Labour Senator Maria Sherlock questioned if access to GAAGO could be extended to the elderly community, Declan McBennett, RTÉ's group head of sport, said this had not been considerd, but said access issues will be a big part of their review into the service, adding they are open to suggestions about further accessibility.


Asked about League of Ireland coverage, Mr McBennett was also asked about League of Ireland coverage, to which he repeated the suggestion of FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill another broadcaster to be involved in airing LOI games.


Paul Farrell, managing director of Virgin Media Ireland, said the growth in streaming will evolve and can give more access to all fans.

Mr Farrell said Ireland v England in the Six Nations was an example of the importance of free-to-air sport, garnering more than one million viewers.



The committee hearing is now in its second session, in which RTÉ is represented.

Declan McBennett, RTÉ's group head of sport, said 859 hours of sport was shown on RTÉ in 2022, with over 1000 hours of sport expected to be shown by the end of this year.

However, Mr McBennett said RTÉ should not have a monopoly on GAA coverage.

"In the age in which we live, it is neither realistic nor feasible that all sport can be or will be free to air," he added.


The GAA’s director general Tom Ryan has questioned how practical a county-quota would be for televised games.

This followed a question from Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin, pointing out that Kerry have only featured once on free-to-air television so far this season.

The committee heard GAAGO attracts an audience in excess of 120,000 people, with the smallest audiences coming in at between 1,000 and 1,500 subscribers.


Peter McKenna, chief commercial officer of the GAA, said Virgin Media was contacted "on several occasions" when it came to broadcasting GAA games this season.

However, he said they preferred a "ready to go" option, they did not wish to do the required production.

His comments followed a question from Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster following claims by Virgin Media that it was not contacted over coverage of GAA games once the Sky deal ended.



The GAA’s director general Tom Ryan said he has noted €12 is “too high” of a price for a one-off purchase for games on GAAGO.

He also acknowledged that broadband has been an issue for some GAAGO users.


The GAA’s director general Tom Ryan, being told of a number of individuals who could not watch a Cork hurling match due to being unable to stream.

“I’m not deaf to any of those issues. The feedback the members of the Oireachtas were getting, we were getting that too,” he said.

“When there are limitations in capacity, there are choices that have to be made. It really is a question of GAAGO is showing more games than we were ever able to broadcast before, free-to-air has more games that are broadcasted, but I don’t think we will ever get to the situation where every game is broadcast.”


The GAA’s director general Tom Ryan said the “specific purpose” of GAAGO when it was first created in 2014 was to reach the diaspora. However, the Covid pandemic changed that.

“We kind of tore up the broadcasting model. We morphed from an overseas and international provider to a domestic market,” he said.

Asked how much of GAAGO's  income is derived from domestic viewers versus international, Mr Ryan said he did not have that information, but he believes the domestic impact is greater. The body will accrue around €4 million annually from GAAGO.


The GAA’s director general Tom Ryan said the organisation did approach other broadcasters when the contract with Sky ended, in a process that lasted for around a year.

“We approached every broadcaster. Everybody had the option,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews asked Mr Ryan if he believes RTÉ's involvement in GAAGO, which it co-owns, is in conflict with its remit as a public service broadcasters, asking can it “serve two masters?”

“I don’t have any particular expertise in RTÉ's public service obligations,” Mr Ryan said.

“Our GAAGO perspective is from the GAA and we do our best to ensure the interests of the GAA are best served in that venture.”


Mary O’Connor, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sport, has called for a magazine programme on free-to-air television to benefit “niche” sports.

“The federation believes that is there is a significant opportunity for niche and emerging sports to have their sports competitions (national and international) available to a larger and more diverse audience through public service broadcasting via television,” she said.

“Currently Ireland has world and European champions in the sports of boxing, rowing, kickboxing, gymnastics to name but a few, however coverage of these sports is largely dependent on success at international level.

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