Big Jack leads the pack as Virgin Media unveils its new TV schedule

Broadcaster hoping for full calendar of live sports, including Six Nations, to attract viewers

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton following  Ireland’s World Cup match against Mexico in Orlando, Florida, in 1994. The documentary Finding Jack Charlton will be shown on Virgin Media Television this spring, along with a raft of escapist entertainment. Photograph: Joe St Leger/The Irish Times

Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton following Ireland’s World Cup match against Mexico in Orlando, Florida, in 1994. The documentary Finding Jack Charlton will be shown on Virgin Media Television this spring, along with a raft of escapist entertainment. Photograph: Joe St Leger/The Irish Times

 

The television premiere of Finding Jack Charlton, an acclaimed documentary on the late Republic of Ireland football manager, is set to be the standout programme on the Virgin Media Television (VMTV) spring schedule.

The documentary, which was co-commissioned by Virgin Media and the BBC and received a cinema and streaming release late last year, was filmed during the last 18 months of Charlton’s life. It captures the World Cup-winning England player’s life with dementia as well as looking back on his sporting glories and what he meant to Irish fans and culture.

“There won’t be a dry eye in Ireland after watching that, I am sure of it,” said Ciara Doherty, co-presenter of Virgin’s The Tonight Show as she hosted a virtual briefing showcasing the months ahead for VMTV.

The broadcaster will be hoping that the calendar of live sport can proceed with little or no interruption in 2021 after last year’s disruption to the Guinness Six Nations and UEFA Champions League, both of which attract large audiences to its main channel, Virgin Media One.

This is the last year of Virgin’s existing four-year deal for the broadcast rights to the Six Nations. Live coverage of the rugby championship is not protected by the Government’s list of major events, meaning only deferred coverage of Ireland’s Six Nations games are guaranteed to be free-to-air.

Fierce competition

Virgin, which is owned by telecoms group Virgin Media Ireland, will likely face fierce competition if it wants to renew the rights, with subscription streaming service Amazon Prime Video reportedly among the parties interested in bidding for the rights in 2022 and beyond.

VMTV’s other sporting coverage includes the Europa League, Heineken Champions Cup and racing from Cheltenham and Aintree.

Elsewhere, escapism and nostalgia is the order of the day, with Gogglebox Ireland’s families once again looking back at the “rich and often colourful” archives of Irish television. Weekend nights on Virgin Media One, meanwhile, revolve around entertainment hits imported under its output deals with ITV Studios, with The Masked Singer and The Voice UK on Saturdays and Dancing on Ice and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? on Sundays.

A new Irish format, Eating with the Enemy, made by production company Animo TV, will see strangers with opposing views paired together for a socially distanced meal, while other new series include 24-Hour Pet Emergency – an insight into UCD’s veterinary hospital – and Crash Scene Investigates, which tells the real-life stories of car crashes and their long-term impact.

“There is loads of talkability with what we’re doing and that’s really important,” said VMTV director of content Bill Malone.

The broadcaster, which is ultimately owned by cable giant Liberty Global, signalled that it would put more full series of dramas on the Virgin Media Player, which will now offer a 90-day catch-up window, up from 30 days in most instances. Imported dramas The Pembrokeshire Murders and a second series of The Bay will be available on-demand in their entirety ahead of their broadcast on linear television.