Not a corker yet: Schedule challenges for UTV Ireland

The name of the channel alone is creating viewer expectations that it is yet to fully meet

UTV Ireland:  news bulletins got off to a decent start. Photograph: Eric Luke

UTV Ireland: news bulletins got off to a decent start. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

After one week on air, UTV Ireland is starting to come into focus, although the picture is not perfectly crisp just yet.

The soaps are being watched, albeit not by everybody who previously consumed them on either TV3 or the “old” UTV. The news bulletins got off to a decent start. In time, the performance of both will become clearer. But for now, let’s take a look at what the rest of the schedule says about the channel, beginning with “You’re a corker, Shannon”, aka the Far and Away problem.

On its cinema release, I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Cruise telling then wife Nicole Kidman “what a corker” she was. In my defence, I was 12 at the time. But some viewers, who assumed that the scheduling of the 1992 “Oirish” epic on UTV Ireland’s second night on air was the work of a Belfast-based executive at UTV Media plc, criticised the choice on the grounds that it exhibited cultural tone-deafness.

The message they felt it sent was: “This is what we think people in the South like.” Even if this wasn’t the thinking at all, it points to something of a delicate issue – for some viewers in the Republic, Northern Ireland may just feel a little too far and away.

Programmes missing in action

There is an element of not being able to win here for UTV Ireland, of course. Who knew so many UPC customers – and it is only UPC’s 400,000 television subscribers who have “lost” the old UTV – would turn out to be fans of the now missing-in- action ITV sitcom Benidorm?

A shout-out, too, to the one person on social media lamenting the absence of Good Morning Britain from the schedule. It’s a car-crash show, with the wrong title for UTV’s Dublin offshoot, but I sympathise, because if UTV Ireland ever dares to get rid of Lorraine I will experience something akin to real grief.

The schedules vary because the way in which UTV in Northern Ireland acquires programming rights differs to how UTV Ireland gets its hands on them (or doesn’t).

In Northern Ireland, UTV holds what is known as the Channel 3 licence, under which it pays ITV plc for access to all programming on the main ITV channel. It is an “affiliate” of the network. UTV Ireland is party to no such licence. If it wants its schedule to mimic that of ITV in the UK it must do deals with each of the companies that distribute programmes to it.

The main deal that it has in place happens to be with ITV Studios, the production and distribution wing of ITV plc, and that’s the one that has given it Coronation Street, Emmerdale, This Morning, various Ant and Dec vehicles, period drama Mr Selfridge and others. It also has an agreement with All3Media International to broadcast programmes such as Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War and claustrophobic game show The Cube.

But it doesn’t have the rights to everything, and some of what it has it doesn’t have exclusively. Graham Norton may feature in UTV Ireland’s “Unmissable” advertising campaign – because he sold his company So Television to ITV Studios – but, rest assured, The Graham Norton Show will still be going out on Friday nights on the advertisement-free BBC.

Award-winning drama Broadchurch airs on ITV in Britain, but it is not made by ITV, and in the Republic it is TV3 that has a deal with its distributor, Shine, a 21st Century Fox company. (Yes, Rupert Murdoch profits from Broadchurch.)

Shiny floor shows

Most importantly for TV3, it retains the rights to Simon Cowell’s shiny floor shows The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, which are distributed by Fremantle.

Some programmes will, inevitably, fall through the cracks, though it is worth remembering that UTV NI, as a free-to-air channel, can still be watched via a satellite receiver and set-top box or, alternatively, via the FilmOn Live app.

UTV Media won’t want to splurge on UTV Ireland until it knows that the audience is capable of finding it on Sky channel 116 and Saorview channel 6. This is understandable. But in time its schedule really should flesh out with both home- produced programmes and imports.

And if the channel does evolve, so too should its branding. The “Ireland” in UTV Ireland is problematic in that it creates expectations. But when it slaps up a “not currently available in the Republic” graphic over the viewer competitions run by its UK daytime imports, the audience is only reminded of the non-Irishness of the schedule.

When it comes to Irishness, UTV may find that it is better to show, not tell. Oirishness, meanwhile, is best avoided for now.