IRTC chairman wary of UTV bid for Cork group

 

The Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC) is concerned about the proposed takeover by UTV of Cork-based County Media.

The chairman of the commission Mr Conor Maguire said yesterday the purchase of the three-station group by UTV would contravene IRTC policy on existing media groups obtaining more than 27 per cent of licences.

Referring to the fact that UTV would become 100 per cent owners of the radio stations, Mr Maguire said: "To say that it's a negative would be putting it mildly."

However, he added that he wouldn't like to pre-empt a decision by the board. The matter was discussed by the board at its monthly meeting on Monday for the first time and no conclusions had been reached in relation to any part of the proposal, he said. The board's deliberations on the issue may be concluded at its next meeting on January 29th, 2001, in Cork.

UTV wishes to buy County Media for £31.3 million (#39.7 million). It operates three radio stations - 96FM in Cork City, 103FM in north Cork, and 103FM in west Cork - and dominates the region with a market share exceeding 52 per cent. Permission from the IRTC for the change of ownership must be given for the deal to go ahead.

Mr Maguire made his comments when discussing the outcome of Monday's board meeting, which produced a shortlist of three from seven original applications for a new licence for Cork city and county.

The applicants shortlisted are Beat FM, Magic FM, and Red Hot FM. Each applicant has been invited to make presentations at oral hearings in Cork at the next IRTC board meeting. Beat FM and Red Hot FM are proposing stations geared towards the 15 to 35 age group while Magic is targeting a wider age bracket. The fact that the Beat consortium is 40 per cent owned by Today FM was "a negative matter, which gave us some concern", Mr Maguire said, but it was felt that the application was "otherwise so strong that it should be shortlisted". The other shareholders include Manchester United footballers Roy Keane and Denis Irwin.

The Magic consortium includes a 27 per cent shareholding owned by Lite FM along with further shareholdings involving connected parties bringing the total involved to 52 per cent. This was an issue which was discussed at some length, Mr Maguire said.

Red Hot FM shareholders include Thomas Crosbie Holdings Ltd, owners of the Irish Examiner.

The IRTC has approved the purchase by Granada Media of 45 per cent of TV3 for £29.3 million sterling (£22.5 million). "All members of the board regarded this as something positive, something that would be of benefit in a general way to the viewing public," Mr Maguire said.

ACT Venture Capital, which owned 35 per cent, will exit the company and a consortium made up of Windmill Lane Pictures Ltd, Principle Management Ltd and Mr OJ Kilkenny, will reduce its shareholding from 20 per cent to 10 per cent. CanWest will continue to hold a 45 per cent shareholding.

Mr Michael O'Keeffe, chief executive of the IRTC, said the decision to give the consortium three positions on the new nine-member board was "very positive" from the IRTC's point of view. CanWest and Granada will also have three board members each.

The IRTC found the initial proposal from Granada unacceptable but that was improved as time went on, Mr Maguire said. There has been a commitment to increased independent production.