Mayhem and bloodshed: Ivan Yates and Pat Kenny warm up for European debates

Ratings are higher when they ‘get the blood up a bit’, say Virgin Media election hosts

How does Virgin Media Television hope to get viewers interested in the European elections? A little bit of "chaos" helps, says Ivan Yates, who co-hosts a series of three debates this week with Matt Cooper, starting on Tuesday night with the Midlands-North West constituency.

When panellists fight with each other, the ratings are higher, says the Tonight Show presenter. “So we try to engineer as much mayhem and bloodshed as possible - political bloodshed.”

Pat Kenny, who will host Pat Kenny's Big Debate on Brexit next week on Virgin Media One, puts it slightly less bluntly.

“In order to get people to watch a programme - which on the face of it, how engaged are people with the European elections - we’ve got to promise them something more than bland political declarations from the candidates,” he says.


“They’ve got to be challenged. You have got to get the blood up a bit.”

There’s no votes in soft interviews anyway, Kenny adds. “It doesn’t work for interviewer because they are seen as pushover and it doesn’t work for them because they aren’t seen to win anything. They aren’t seen as combative or in any way charge.”

Yates says he and Cooper have noticed “a lot more edge” coming into their Tonight Show panels, reflecting the fact that the main political parties are “very much in a countdown” to a general election and that this month’s European and local elections are “a dry run” for one.

"We have had three years of new politics where really it has been non-collision, non-contact sport between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and I think but for Brexit we would have already had a general election by this time."

Balance and waffle

Yates and Cooper will host rotating panels from the Ireland South constituency on Wednesday and then turn their attention to Dublin on Thursday.

“We’ll be asking them if it’s all a gravy train,” said Yates, “and for some of them, we’ll be asking them to account for their stewardship.”

Kenny's special, which includes an audience packed with "interested parties", is the third of his Big Debate specials for Virgin Media Television since his weekly current affairs show came to an end. His line-up will include erstwhile presidential candidate Peter Casey.

While producers do count the minutes allocated to each party, Virgin takes the view that the time should be evenly balanced out over the entirety of its output, Kenny says.

“I’ve always made the point that one telling mark that takes 30 seconds can be worth more than 30 minutes of waffle.”

Do politicians still need television platforms in the same way that they did, say, 15 years ago, before the rise of direct access to audiences through social media?

They do, Kenny believes. “They queue up trying to get on current affairs shows so one presumes they feel they need them.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics