TV3's most promising baby gets a star-studded welcome


MEDIA & MARKETING: Tonight, TV3 will put on a show, and not just any old show. A special, not-for-broadcast episode of Tonight with Vincent Browne will be filmed in front of an invited audience of 200-plus guests, who will stream into TV3’s newest and most promising baby: the Sony HD Studio Dublin.

Plaque-unveiling duties for TV3’s 500sq m facility-cum-futureproof-strategy will be performed by local TD and Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, in what is likely to be one of his few moments of media-related cheer this week.

Rabbitte and Browne will follow where One Direction have already been – the Sony-signed pop act’s interview with Karen Koster, conducted last October, was the first broadcast recording made within the studio’s walls.

That one-off was the stuff teenage girls’ dreams are made of – the studio, meanwhile, is the high-definition realisation of TV3 executives’ fantasies. Even on a boyband-style scale of excitement, its official opening is a big deal, for TV3 in the first instance, but also for the wider television industry in Ireland. Two words come to mind: export and potential.

Located opposite TV3’s existing Ballymount premises, the Sony HD Studio Dublin is now Ireland’s largest television studio, edging RTÉ’s Studio 4, the home of The Late Late Show, into second place.

Constructing a television studio isn’t a simple task. Financially, TV3 – which spent €4-€5 million on the building – had to employ some ingenuity, spending last summer pursuing and negotiating a deal with Sony International that involves the supply of some €7 million of Sony HD camera and editing equipment.

Logistically, too, getting the studio off the ground was a complex, highly specialised task, which fell to Convention Centre Dublin veterans Sisk. After the shell of the building was erected, there was the “acoustic box” to complete. Every door, every cable box and every air-conditioning unit on its walls incurs a not-insignificant cost because they break the acoustic skin that wraps around the studio.

Backstage, the studio boasts something that is often the stuff of industry gossip, but visitors to Ballymount will know hasn’t really been in TV3’s broadcasting lexicon in its 14-and-a-half year history: a green room. Up to now, guests on its shows waited in a corridor, which isn’t the ideal scenario for shows with large casts such as trash-telly fest Take Me Out Ireland, where it is best if contestants don’t meet each other until cameras roll.

In any case, Take Me Out had to be outsourced to Dublin’s Helix venue because it was too big a production to fit into the “old” Ballymount studio. The new studio will enable TV3 to “repatriate” it, while allowing new director of content Jeff Ford to incorporate audiences into existing formats and make new shows that lend themselves to ambitious sets.

“I don’t want to anticipate what Jeff will or won’t be commissioning, but I’ll be trying to encourage him to think about the levers that are now within his reach,” says Niall Cogley, TV3’s director of broadcast, who has overseen the studio project since joining the group 18 months ago.

The ability to expand its own programming into the technologically sophisticated space next door is only the beginning of TV3’s plans. The studio’s real advantage is that it will give the broadcaster a fresh revenue stream, the crucial defining feature of which is that it’s not advertising.

Both Cogley and Pat Kiely, the group’s commercial director, say the name of the game is to “balance” use of the studio for its own shows with the desire to make the facility available to paying third parties.

These third parties are likely to include British broadcasters looking for a competitively-priced alternative to heavily-booked UK television recording facilities such as ITV’s London Studios, MediaCity in Salford and the Fountain Studios in Wembley, where The X Factor is filmed.

A comedy pilot for ITV has already been part-shot in the studio, while a “major” entertainment series for the UK market is on the cards, says Kiely. The studio also has the ability to broadcast live to Britain, courtesy of a signal routed through London’s BT Tower.

Closer to home, possible third-party clients include rivals such as RTÉ (to which TV3 is now an accredited supplier), which could in theory use the studio in much the same way that the BBC avails of ITV production facilities on occasion.

Kiely isn’t revealing TV3’s internal target for how much of its business it wants to eventually glean from studio revenues, but after a nightmare few years for advertising and a “slow start” to 2013, it’s not hard to get the feeling that no percentage would be too high.

The words “Sony HD Studio Dublin” seem set to become an on-air refrain.

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