Action stations at UTV Ireland as ‘plan’ is promised
Company blames ‘volatility’ on ‘difficulty of predicting audiences for a start-up’
‘The pre-launch advertising campaign shouted about the station having Ant & Dec and Mr Selfridge – fine, except we already had them.’ Photograph: David Venni
At UTV Ireland they probably don’t want to be reminded of the teatime news bulletin of Monday, June 22nd. That day the news slot drew an audience of just 4,700. That’s tiny. The following day the news slot attracted 13,000 viewers, with 15,000 tuning in the day after that.
The dreadful figures just keep coming. Last Tuesday the parent company of the six-month-old station, Belfast-based UTV Media, made an unscheduled trading update. It said it now expects UTV Ireland to make a larger-than-expected loss of £11.5 million (€16.2 million) in 2015, up from a earlier prediction of £8.5 million (€12 million).
Growth – commercial and viewer numbers – “had stalled”. The company blamed the “volatility” on “the difficulty of predicting audiences for a start-up channel in a competitive market”. But is it really that difficult? Are audiences that hard to read?
The statement promises an “action plan” and details have been trickling out: the logo is to be revamped to brighten it up, and the idents that feature Irish scenery are to change so that they presumably will stop looking like mini-moments from a Fáilte Ireland campaign.
On the commercial side, there may also be a look at costings. UTV Ireland has two audience magnets in Coronation Street and Emmerdale but, with poor audience delivery across the schedule, agencies have been baulking at the cost of advertising.
A new logo is nice but what’s in it for viewers?
Since even before it first aired on January 1st, UTV Ireland has been a confusing proposition. The pre-launch advertising campaign shouted about the station having Ant & Dec and Mr Selfridge – fine, except we already had them. We’ve had UTV for decades, something that the UTV mothership in Belfast appears to have happily ignored, first in that campaign and since then, more problematically, in programming. And so UTV Ireland blithely shows series that viewers in the Republic have already seen on UTV ages ago. To make matters worse, new ITV dramas appear on UTV but not on UTV Ireland. Never has a “new” station appeared so old.
Viewers vote with their remotes. UTV Ireland’s first programme, Out With the Old – In With The U, presented by the station’s star signing, Pat Kenny, had all the charm and appeal of a corporate travel video. It had an average audience of 73,000, just 3.9 per cent of available viewers. A lot of people watching TV at the time just weren’t interested in watching that. It was an early sign of what was to come. Was that so hard to predict?
On Monday and Fridays there are two episodes of Coronation Street separated by a half-hour programme. On Monday it’s UTV Ireland’s new prime-time programme Mount Stewart: the Big House Reborn. A multipart series “on the restoration of the National Trust property”.
I’m sure it’s fine. It’s also on UTV at the same time and it simply reinforces the confusion around UTV Ireland. Does it really want to be a new Irish station or is it what it looks like, a “regional” spin-off of UTV, which is, in turn, a regional ITV channel?
On Friday that half-hour Corrie break is stuffed with a filler, River Monsters. Could viewers of the increasingly racy goings on on the cobbled streets of Weatherfield really be that interested in watching blokes fishing?
RTÉ is the big beast in the news playground. TV3 has been around since 1998 and it still has just a fraction of the State broadcaster’s news audience.
UTV Ireland, maybe blinded by its state-of-the-art news studio, puts a huge emphasis on its news offering. In May, already aware of its poor viewer numbers at prime time, daytime and weekend, it announced a schedule change. It moved its teatime news slot from 6pm to 5.30pm to go head-to-head with TV3.
It seemed a curiously pointless, rivalry-for-rivalry’s- sake, move. There were bigger problems to fix. And it didn’t work. It lost the station viewers who, it turned out, prefer the later time.
In February 2014, when the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland signed contracts with UTV Media, BAI chairman Bob Collins said the station was welcome “particularly for the additional choice and increased diversity of content that it will offer to Irish viewers”.
There little sign of choice and diversity yet – and viewers know it.