Cantillon: Soap opera continues for Irish broadcasting

Pace of change accelerates in a television industry trying to ‘future-proof’ itself

UTV Ireland: Virgin Media will operate the channel alongside TV3 and 3e, or whether it will even continue to do so, is unclear.

UTV Ireland: Virgin Media will operate the channel alongside TV3 and 3e, or whether it will even continue to do so, is unclear.

 

It’s not quite on speed, Westminster-style, but events in the Irish broadcasting scene over the past fortnight have been moving along at such a decent clip, 2016 is bound to end on a giant cliffhanger.

To recap: Virgin Media has bought UTV Ireland from ITV for €10 million. News Corp has bought the former UTV-owned radio stations for £220 million (€259 million). Eir has rebranded Setanta Sports as Eir Sport, nabbed the rights to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and poached RTÉ Television boss Glen Killane for its executive ranks.

And RTÉ’s new director-general, Dee Forbes, has taken up her position in Montrose and advised staff of the need to “future-proof” the organisation to cope with industry changes.

Virgin Media’s move on UTV Ireland is one such industry change. In a highly logical move, the owner of TV3 Group since last December is now consolidating its interests in the Irish market by buying the 19-month-old channel and its associated programme rights.

The birth of the soap-stealing UTV Ireland was not welcomed by TV3, but the channel’s management was always publicly confident that it could weather the Weatherfield storm.

Even before its game-changing acquisition by Liberty Global subsidiary Virgin Media (for the rather larger sum of €80 million), TV3 was correctly dismissive of UTV’s projection that its Dublin-based venture could become the second most-watched channel in Ireland.

The Ballymount corridors will also remember that the UTV move “down south” was interpreted in some quarters as doom for TV3, while it was once regularly speculated that UTV would take it over. As a result of Liberty Global’s investment and UTV Media’s disintegration, the reverse has now happened.

How Virgin Media will operate UTV Ireland alongside TV3 and 3e, or whether it will even continue to do so, is unclear.

Interestingly, UTV Ireland’s carriage on the Saorview platform was granted on the basis that it has a “public service character”, so the new owners may not be able to strip the channel of its news output without consequence.

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