Pat Kiely is stepping down as managing director of Virgin Media Television this summer after four years in the role and 22 years at the broadcaster, formerly known as TV3.
A well-known figure across Irish advertising and media, Mr Kiely told colleagues on Friday that he will “pass on the baton” in July to pursue a new opportunity in the industry that will draw on his experience.
“I am very proud of what the last five years have brought and I am excited now to move on to my next chapter,” Mr Kiely said. “The business is in good shape and is very secure.”
He planned to announce his decision on March 13th, but was “pre-empted by Leo Varadkar” and the unfolding coronavirus crisis, he said.
Virgin Media Ireland chief executive Tony Hanway asked him to stay on to lead the broadcaster and its 300 employees through the initial period of Covid-19 disruption, which saw almost all staff move to working from home.
Virgin Media Television's status as a subsidiary of the broadband and pay-TV operator, which is in turn owned by the cable giant Liberty Global, has given it protection from the crisis that it wouldn't previously have had as a standalone broadcaster.
Despite being “impacted” by a fall in advertising revenues, the company has not implemented the pay cuts or layoffs seen elsewhere in the media and has no plans to avail of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme.
Mr Kiely said Virgin Media Television remained committed to any programming commitments it already had in place, but would review its future plans as it monitors the effect of advertisers’ retreat.
The broadcaster has always taken a “we have to earn it to spend it” approach to business, he added, but was hopeful that television advertising would be “one of the quickest” to recover.
“I think television will be very well-placed not just to ride through this, but to come out the other side.”
News audiences have surged since the crisis, with its extended 5.30pm bulletin regularly attracting more than 250,000 viewers, while the broadcaster may be in line for “one hell of an autumn schedule”, he says, if key sporting events, such as the completion of the Six Nations and climax of the Champions League, go ahead before the end of 2020.
Mr Kiely earlier thanked colleagues for their “tremendous support, hard work and talent” during his time at Virgin Media Television and TV3.
After a decade working at advertising agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi and DDFH&B, he first joined TV3 in 1998 as director of sales, making him a member of the management team when the channel finally went on air after years of attempts by business consortiums to start a commercial rival to RTÉ.
In 2007, he became TV3 Group’s commercial director and played a key role in helping it survive the recession as well as a later threat to its business posed by the short-lived UTV Ireland channel.
Mr Kiely said “one of the biggest jobs” he had done at TV3 was being part of the team that brought in Liberty Global, which acquired the broadcaster from its former private equity owners in 2015. Mr Kiely was promoted to the top job shortly after, succeeding David McRedmond in January 2016.
He subsequently oversaw the rebranding of the original TV3 channel to Virgin Media One just ahead of its 20th anniversary in 2018, with acquisitions 3e (previously Channel 6) and Be3 (previously UTV Ireland) becoming Virgin Media Two and Virgin Media Three respectively.
Following investment from the parent company, Mr Kiely also led the upgrade of the broadcaster’s news studios and the launch of Virgin Media Sport, and agreed an alliance with Sky on advertising technology AdSmart.
Under his watch, a key hire from RTÉ, director of content Bill Malone, commissioned programming such as Gogglebox Ireland, award-winning drama Blood and factual series The Guards: Inside the K.
“There is no reason why Virgin Media Television should play second fiddle to any other media business in Ireland,” Mr Kiely said on Friday.
“It’s a fantastic business with fantastic people, and I think they will take it on to even bigger heights.”
Mr Hanway said Mr Kiely had “truly transformed the business” and left a proud legacy. Virgin will continue to develop the broadcasting strategy that he has future-proofed, he said.
“While sorry to see Pat leave the business, we thank him for his major contribution and wish him the very best with his future plans.”