RTÉ was the first broadcaster to have public System I 625-line transmissions in 1962, two years before the launch of BBC Two in that format.
The broadcaster made its first official colour transmissions in 1969 – although a mistake in standards conversion may have transmitted the 1968 Wimbledon Men's Finals in colour. The first programme made in colour by RTÉ was the documentary special "John Hume's Derry", under the 7 Days banner. Since 1969 RTÉ could transmit programmes made in colour which were imported from UK & US which were shown on RTÉ Television. The next phase was outside-broadcasts in colour, and the first was Ireland's hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest 1971 & Railway Cup Finals 1971, the first of many such productions by RTE. The first studios at RTÉ's headquarters in Donnybrook went into colour in 1972. This was followed by the news studios in 1974. All of RTÉ's studios at Donnybrook, Dublin were equipped for colour broadcasts by 1976. The last studio in RTÉ to go into colour was Studio 1 the then-home of Ireland's flagship talkshow The Late Late Show.
In 1977, a new Fianna Fáil government came to power, and as one of its
many promises, the government quickly authorised a second channel to
be run by RTÉ. RTÉ 2's remit was to provide alternative television. As
a consequence, the original RTÉ 2 schedule had many live relays of
British programmes; however, there was also some original RTÉ 2
programming. The new television channel went on the air on November 2,
1978, and the opening night featured a gala variety show from the Cork
In 1987, RTÉ 2 was renamed Network 2, with the revamp intended to revive flagging viewership ratings, with many preferring to watch BBC Northern Ireland or UTV, both accessible within much of the Republic. All sports coverage was transferred to the newly renamed channel, along with all children's programmes. The few Irish-language programmes provided by RTÉ were now broadcast on Network 2, although RTÉ One now also broadcasts Irish-language programmes.
Although Irish language programmes, such as news bulletins (Nuacht)
and the long-running documentary series Léargas ('insight'), have been
an integral part of the schedule, a new Irish-language TV service,
Teilifís na Gaeilge (now TG4), began broadcasting in 1996.
RTÉ developed its only major studio complex outside Dublin in Cork. RTÉ Cork, opened in 1995 and became a huge success. It also became a large contributor to network output on both Radio One and RTÉ One.
Presently, both RTÉ One and RTÉ Two provide round-the-clock broadcasts
seven days a week, providing comprehensive coverage of news, current
affairs, sport, music, drama and entertainment. Most of the broadcasts
are in English, including programming imported from the UK, US,
Australia and New Zealand.
RTÉ One, RTÉ Two and TG4 are also available in much of Northern Ireland via terrestrial overspill or on cable (coverage and inclusion on cable systems varies). Since 23 April 2002, (18 April 2005 in Northern Ireland) the channels have also been available via satellite on Sky Digital, although these are encrypted and anyone wishing to view the channels needs to obtain a Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland subscription (they are part of the Variety Mix under the new pricing system, or the Family Pack in the pre-2005 system). In addition, some sports programmes are blocked to NI viewers due to rights issues which conflict with the UK.
RTÉ's TV channels are not available to Sky subscribers in Great Britain, as owing to rights issues, it would be difficult and costly for RTÉ to broadcast its channels in the whole of the UK. However, between 1997 and 2002, Tara Television carried a mix of RTÉ One and Two programmes before disputes with RTÉ over payment led to its closure.
While both the Irish government and RTÉ have expressed an interest in launching a similar service to Tara, no serious attempt has been made to establish one. In the meantime, a thriving grey market in Irish-registered Sky Digital receivers means that Irish people in Britain and much of Europe are able to watch RTÉ and the other Irish channels, provided they import an Irish-registered Sky Digital box.
In January 2007, RTÉ announced plans to launch a channel, with the working title of RTÉ International, which would offer programmes from RTÉ One and Two as well as TG4. It would be initially available in Britain, before expanding into the rest of Europe, North America and Australia. The Irish government, while supporting the initiative by proposing new legislation, stated that no extra funds would be available.
In the meantime, all RTÉ News and Current Affairs programmes, as well as specials like the St. Patrick's Day parade and Easter mass, started to stream live free around the world on March 17, 2007 at www.rte.ie/live/.
From the outset, RTÉ had faced competition from British TV channels such as those of the BBC and ITV, broadcasting from Northern Ireland, whose signals spilt over into the Republic. RTÉ's approach was pragmatic, as it introduced cable television in the 1970s, initially known as RTÉ Relays, and subsequently (following mergers with other companies) as Cablelink, although it later sold its stake in the company, to NTL Ireland which has now become UPC.
In the 1990s, more competition came from satellite television, especially from Sky based in the UK. British terrestrial TV channels are now commonly available throughout the Republic, but the number of channels received varies depending on the region. Despite this availability RTÉ still manages to achieve over 50% of the total TV audience for all channels.
RTÉ carried the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games opening and closing ceremonies live for the first time in the history of the games, together with daily radio and television coverage of the events.
RTÉ introduced digital on-screen graphics for both RTÉ One and RTÉ Two in 2004 a move which has proven somewhat controversial despite TV3 and TG4 using them from the outset.
In late 2004, RTÉ produced the third series of the talent show 'You're a Star' in widescreen (i.e. the aspect ratio of 16:9). This was RTÉ's first official 16:9 production but the programme wasn't actually available to viewers in 16:9 format even on digital platforms. Instead, it was broadcast like all other 16:9 programmes in the 14:9 'letterbox' aspect ratio. It was not until March of 2005 that RTÉ One and RTÉ Two began broadcasting some programmes in true 16:9 format on digital platforms. This was followed by a complete switchover to 16:9 output on both television channels in May 2005 with the exception of a few programmes. This did not require a make-over of the on-screen identity of the two channels because all of the idents and other presentation output had already been created in 16:9 (as far back as September 2003 for RTÉ One and October 2004 for RTÉ Two) in anticipation of such a switchover. RTÉ's news bulletins (and the rest of the news and current affairs programming) were not broadcast in 16:9 until August 28, 2006 when RTÉ's news output was given a new look. TG4 began broadcasting in 16:9 in late 2006.