The Media Market

Irish media might be described as a dual-funded model, financed by both commercial revenues and public income. However, the former has long accounted for the lion’s share of revenues even for public service media. In consequence the health of the media sector as a whole is closely tied to the state of the wider economy. During the era of the so-called “Celtic Tiger” (1995 – 2007) when the Irish economy grew at a previously unheard-of pace, advertising expenditure also ballooned and the revenues of advertising-funded media grew at an unprecedented rate, not least due to a property boom-driven explosion in accommodation-related advertising. However, when, almost overnight, the Irish economy collapsed in 2008, a process accelerated by over-leveraged banks and over-valued property, commercial media also suffered. Legacy media outlets in particular have never properly recovered, not least as online platforms came to dominate the advertising sector as a whole.

State Funding

State funding of media is largely concentrated on the two PSM, RTE and TG4. The main mechanism for collecting public funds is a television licence system which is levied on every household which contains television sets capable of broadcast reception. The licence fee is collected by the An Post (the Irish Post Office) which charges in the region of €12m per annum for this service. 7% of the licence fee is set aside and used to fund the Sound and Vision Scheme (see below) which is administered by the Media Commission. RTÉ receives the remaining licence revenue which, in 2021, amounted to €196m. TG4 receives the bulk of its revenues in the form of a direct exchequer grant amounting to €37m in 2021 with the rest of its revenues (€5m) coming from commercial sources.

License Fee

There has been extensive debate about the need to replace the television licence fee as a means of supporting the main public service broadcaster since 2009. With content now extensively distributed on the internet, access to public service media content is no longer reliant on television set ownership.Thus, an increasing number of Irish households have made statutory declarations that they no longer own a set and thus are not liable to pay a television licence. Evasion rates for those who are liable to pay the licence vary from 12% to 15% from year to year. This is considered high by European standards: according to the EBU, the average level of evasion in the EU in 2019 was 9.1%. Public disquiet relating to undisclosed payments to high profile presenters , news of which emerged in 2023, has driven evasion rates to even higher levels. Finally, the licence fee level is determined by the government of the day and Ministers appear to regard licence fee increases as politically damaging: the current licence fee of €160 has not changed since 2008.

In 2017 a Parliamentary Committee recommended replacing the licence fee with a House Broadcasting Charge. In 2021 the State-appointed Future of Media Commission recommended direct exchequer funding for both public service media (PSM) institutions. To date, neither recommendation has been accepted by Irish governments. In consequence, the state has been forced to plug the increasingly large holes in RTE’s finances with a sequence of “one-off” payments.

State Subsidies

State funding of private media is limited. Press subsidies have never been a feature of the Irish media landscape. After several decades of campaigning, the Irish newspaper industry succeeded in convincing the State to apply a zero-rate of VAT to newspapers from January 2023. The Future of Media Commission recommended that the state should fund some press content (e.g. court reporting) via a scheme to be administered by the Media Commission but this has yet to be established.

The Sound and Vision Scheme administered by the Media Commission is available to any radio or television production company based on the island of Ireland (including Northern Ireland). Worth between €15m and €20m per annum, the scheme supports the production of public service content which may be screened on any broadcaster in Ireland, be they PSM, commercial or community-based.

The State also funds film, television and animation production via Screen Ireland (2021 Budget: €38m) and the Section 481 Tax Mechanism which was worth approximately €98m in 2021. Screen Ireland and Section 481 mainly fund drama production but also support a significant amount of documentary output.

Commercial revenues: In decline

As noted above commercial revenues account for the vast bulk of media funding in Ireland. From the 1960s until 2008, even RTÉ relied on commercial income for 60% to 70% of its income. This is unusual by European standards: even though RTE’s commercial revenues plummeted after 2008 (from a peak of €245m in 2007 to €145m in 2021), non-public finance still accounted for 43% of the station’s revenues in 2021. This compares with an 18% average figure across European Broadcasting Union members.

Within those media sectors considered purely commercial, the period since the financial crash of 2008 has witnessed considerable change as legacy media have faced increasing competition from online platforms. The impacts of this competition varies by media: print outlets have been particularly affected experiencing both rapid declines in circulation and advertising revenues which have increasingly driven them to explore online revenue models. Though somewhat less affected the revenues of linear television and radio sectors have also not recovered to pre-2008 and it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever do so. Reliable and consistent data covering all media sectors is notoriously (and increasingly) difficult to source. For the purposes of this review we have mainly used figures from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook” research but we should acknowledge that other sources (such as Core Advertising the largest advertising marketing communications company in Ireland) would propose different figures, based in part on different metrics.



> Details on the Advertising Market

PWC suggests that in 2021, the Irish Entertainment and Media sector as a whole was worth €4.9bn. With regard to newspapers, PWC estimates that total revenues have dropped from €507m in 2018 to €408m in 2021. Looking over a longer period, Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for national morning and evening newspapers point to a drop from 800,000 daily in 2007 to 351,000 in 2018 (after which point most of the major titles withdrew from the ABC system). And, although we would treat these figures with caution, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland (IAPI) Adspend and Nielsen Adspend figures suggest that total newspaper advertising revenues have collapsed from just over €1bn in 2007 to €159m in 2021.

PWC suggests that the television advertising sector was worth €227m in 2021 whilst the TV subscription market (dominated by Sky and Virgin Media) was worth €532m (IAPI estimated the total value of television advertising to have peaked at €416m in 2008).  Notably, as of 2021, the total revenues of streaming services (€244m) appears to outstrip advertising expenditures.

Of all the legacy sectors, radio has bounced back to the largest extent. Although IAPI figures track a decline in total radio advertising spend from €150m in 2008 to €73m by 2014, the sector subsequently recovered with Nielsen figures suggesting that radio ad spend reached €162m in 2021. Estimates from other sources are less optimistic but still point to some growth in the sector.

Online media have been the main beneficiaries of what growth there has been in the Irish advertising sector. Based on PWC research commissioned by IAB Ireland, the total value of the internet advertising market in 2009 was €97m. The same source suggests that total online adspend reached €830m in 2021. Although figures from CORE offer a place the value of online advertising slightly lower (at €789m) they still estimate that online accounts for nearly 60% of all advertising expenditure in Ireland. (PWC offers a lower estimate still for online advertising: €660m for 2021.) 

Online vs. Legacy 

The contrasting financial fortunes of legacy and online media Ireland since 2008 have given rise to a narrative of a causal link between the decline of one sector and the rise of the other. In particular, Legacy media have complained that online media have undermined the long-established advertising-for-news quid pro quo. Thus those media outlets which performed a public service by performing news gathering and dissemination services have seen their commercial income dwindle whilst online platforms (with little-to-no news production facilities) of their own have thrived. Legacy media organisations have also chafed at the fact that they are subject to content regulation which online media – albeit in a pre-Digital Services Act eta – have largely evaded. There have been calls, amplified through submissions to the Irish Future of Media Commission in 2020 and 2021, to use the levy on digital intermediaries provided for in the most recent iteration of the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive, to cross-subsidise the activities of traditional news media from the profits of their online counterparts. 

The Irish Economy - Rich on paper

Ireland is considered to be a prosperous country by international standards. Measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, it is the second richest country in the world as of 2023, only behind  Luxembourg. As of mid-2023, the unemployment rate was 4.1% which is effectively regarded as full employment. Public debt is less positive: per capita debt stood at €44,000 per person as of the end of 2022, one of the highest per capita debt burdens in the world. In any case a reliance on conventional economic measures such as GDP hugely overstates the actual wealth of the country.

Irish GDP is artificially inflated by the presence and activities of multinational companies from the information and communications technology, pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors. The impact of these players on the small economy is significant: as of 2022, the Irish revenues of just three - Apple, Alphabet and Meta – are worth more than half total national GDP. Depreciation on the capital assets (including Intellectual Property) owned by multinationals is included in Irish GDP. Furthermore, Ireland’s low rate of corporation tax creates a strong incentive for multinationals to establish headquarter operations in Ireland despite conducting relatively little economic activity in this country. As a consequence the undistributed profits of these multinationals are also attributed to their Irish operations further inflating Irish GDP.

An alternate measure  of the scale of the economy, Gross National Income (GNI), which strips out some of these distortions, offers a more accurate picture of the Irish economy. In most countries, GDP and GNI are roughly equivalent. In Ireland, however, GNI is about 40% lower than GDP and Ireland ranks 8th (not 2nd) in the EU on the basis of GNI per capita.

Other potential indicators rank Ireland even lower. Using “Actual Individual Consumption”, based on consumption by households and consumption spending by government on individual services, Ireland was ranked 12th in the EU in 2019. Even this does not reflect the impact of the high cost of living: by 2019 Irish prices were approximately 25% higher than the Euro area average.


“The Value and Future of Public Service Media”, EBU (2020), Appendix 2, page 5.

Perspectives from the Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2023–2027, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Accessed on 8 October 2023.

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