independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Blow to TV3 as UTV plans to launch TV station here

UTV plans to come to market with Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the bag

Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan
Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan

UTV is planning to battle it out against TV3 and RTE for viewers with plans for a new TV station here with offices in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and the creation of 100 jobs.

The surprise news was announced just hours after UTV signed an exclusive contract with ITV to give the new station the exclusive broadcasting rights for soaps such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the Republic if it gets the green light - these programmes are currently shown on TV3.

The agreement, signed yesterday, prompted the announcement.

"It's as simple as that - were were able to do a deal with ITV," said John McCann, group chief executive at UTV.

The company plans to use its UTV model to launch in the Irish Market which will include a flagship news programme although it is not known what time this will air.

UTV parent, UTV Media, submitted a plan to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland today for a content provision contract and it expects to know before Christmas whether it has been successful.

UTV is planning to have the station, which will be called UTV Ireland, on the air in early 2015 with plans for break-even in its full-year of operation and profitability in 2016.

Such a move will also put pressure on RTE as a presence North and South of the border would give UTV more fire power if bidding for international rights to other programmes.

It will be headquartered in Dublin, if it gets the go-ahead and UTV is also planning news and current affairs coverage as part of its offering as well as an investment of millions of euro.

UTV Media, which already employs 300 people here and has a number of radio stations, said the move was a strong vote of confidence in Irish broadcasting and the Irish economy.

Mr McCann said the company had already seen signs of growth in the Irish economy which helped prompt the decision.

"Essentially what we'll be doing in Ireland is replicating what we do in Northern Ireland where we take an ITV network schedule and we customise that with the needs and preferences of the viewers there - we add in local programming, local content."

Mr McCann said that formula has proved a winner in Northern Ireland already.

He also said that a recruitment drive will include continuity announcers and local programming will be sourced here.

He added that having soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale on board will be an advantage because they are "very popular' here.

"The audience in Ireland has known the UTV brand for more than 50 years through our station for Northern Ireland and we're delighted to announce our plans for a new dedicated channel for viewers in the Republic of Ireland," he said.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told RTE he was surprised by the move but he welcomed it and he will be meeting station executives today.

"It's somewhat of a surprise, I'll admit but one has to be positive about it.

"It means more competition in the broadcasting space and will create jobs in the Republic and the island of Ireland....and will provide more competition for incumbents.

"There will be challenges arising from this decision...UTV is well established on the island of Ireland."

He added that broadcasters have taken a ht in terms of the advertising collapse but the establishment of radio channel based in the Republic was welcome news.

TV3 chief executive David McRedmond admitted today that the move will be challenging for the station but time will tell.

"We've had other players come into to the market in the past and they haven't stayed," he said.

"It is a challenge but we have refocused our attention on home grown programming and that will remain our focus."

He played down suggestions that losing the likes of Corie would be a blow for TV3.

"We were losing money on the soaps," he said.

He added that the TV3 budget was being starved as a result.

Meanwhile, UPC Ireland has reported a 7pc increase in its subscription figures to 1,040,000 in the third quarter.

The broadband to TV service provider said the figures included 30,000 new Irish customers for Horizon TV.

Ailish O'Hora

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