By Sadhbh Hendrick
Is fearr Gaeilge briste or nó?
Apparently nó, as it was revealed this week that Irish broadcaster TG4 has seen a massive decrease in its ratings over the past year. The publicly-funded Irish language channel has said it’s “extremely disappointed” in a drop in viewing figures.
Its annual report showed its average all-day share fell by 5.9% to just 1.76%. Meanwhile, its weekly reach dropped by 9% to 30%. This ratings failure comes despite the fact that the company saw a 2.6% increase in funding last year, up to almost €34million.
What does this signify for the future of the Irish language? It is no secret that the future of the Irish language is a hot topic in Ireland today. Is this dropping a further nail in the coffin of Irish, or is it simply a sign of the times of television? With questions over the future of Irish education and its falling numbers of speakers, figures like the ones above are serious cause for concern for those of us passionate about keeping Gaeilge alive. (Tír gan teanga…)
Television itself is going through a period of reform and change, due to the introduction of various other platforms such as Netflix, Apple TV etc. The TV viewer is changing, tastes and opinions are tailored for more than ever as we are all falling under the spell of “Suggested for You” algorithms and the programmes that offer the best Instagram memes thereafter (Love Island). So are we not tuning in to Ros na Rún because Gaeilge is on the way out, or are we just more interested in binge watching Gossip Girl? It is evident that the change in viewer profiles and choices will negatively impact all traditional television channels. We cannot, however, ignore the decrease in ratings for TG4 relative to other stations.
Why are so few people engaging with Irish language content? It poses the question as to whether or not the station has the ability to keep up with viewer demands and ever-changing tastes. In a world where consumers are more spoilt than ever before, it is hard to attract and retain loyal viewers. Perhaps the most popular programme types are not feasible in such a station, or is the problem more deeply rooted than that?
We question whether or not the issue lies in the language of the station and perhaps consider that this may be another of the many struggles Gaeilge has to endure in its survival attempt. As the Irish language hits headlines over proposals to remove it as a compulsory language, the lack of viewership in TG4 does in fact provide a case study for the dwindling interest. Is the language too dated and seemingly redundant to survive in the lightning-speed of society today? When we consider the most popular reality TV shows, they simply do not translate (pardon the pun) into the same addictive viewing through the medium of Gaeilge. Or is that, in fact, where TG4 are going wrong? We consider whether some more modern content draw in the viewers and boost the profile of Irish today. Love Island on Inishmore anyone?