Keeping it country pays for local station with global reach

Fledgling broadcaster Irish TV is moving from a purely online platform to having a slot on Sky, and may even get a broadcasting licence in the State

Country music star Lisa McHugh with Irish music legends Foster and Allen at the launch of the Irish TV autumn schedule in Dublin. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Country music star Lisa McHugh with Irish music legends Foster and Allen at the launch of the Irish TV autumn schedule in Dublin. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

“Is this going to be wall-to-wall Killinaskully?” That’s what a friend asked Irish TV chief executive Pierce O’Reilly about his autumn schedule. Rather than take offence, the Mayo man and head of the new station replied that he wouldn’t say no to those sort of viewing figures.

Last month Irish TV’s autumn schedule got lost in the hoopla and glitzy announcements about Pat Kenny on UTV, new dramas on RTÉ and the long list of glamorous looking – and home produced – programmes on TV3.

That doesn’t faze O’Reilly too much either. The station, whose tag line is “local stories, global audience” isn’t interested in celebrity. The audience focus is on the diaspora and on local communities here who are more interested in what’s happening down the road than what the Kardashians are up to.

The station’s USP is that it broadcasts half-hour programmes from each of the 32 counties every week. When O’Reilly talks about engaging locally, he really means it.

It’s determination to be local for local people, at home and abroad, accounts to for its slightly awkward name – Irish TV sounds more like a genre description than a television station.

Based in Westport, Co Mayo it has been broadcasting only online but since May, licensing by UK regulator Ofcom has allowed it to take a slot on the Sky platform. It is also shown on Freesat and in the US on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Negotiations are under way with the BAI which could see it a given a broadcasting licence in the State – so that’s two leaps forward for the fledgling broadcaster.

Source of funding

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Programme budgets are, says, O Reilly significantly lower than other stations, at not more than €15,000 per half hour.

There’s an emphasis on country music with Foster and Allen presenting their own show.

“Lisa McHugh is one of our biggest country stars. She packs out everywhere outside Dublin,” says O’Reilly.

Her series On the Road will see her teaming up with other country stars for various adventures, so she goes fishing with Nathan Carter and gets a hole in one with Daniel O Donnell.

Sponsorship and advertising is building slowly, says O’Reilly. To date the main source of funding for Irish TV is the €15 million investment from UK-based May born business man John Griffin.

Irish TV already has satellite offices in Tyrone, Manchester and London, “but an Irish licence would reflect where we are headquartered, that’s important”, he says.