The TV station behind Tallafornia and Xpose prepares to wow viewing audiences and investors with a new plan of attack, writes John Reynolds
AS it prepares to air Deception -- a new €1.2m six-part TV drama filmed in Galway -- and a host of other new shows, TV3's efforts to make money are being ramped up.
The station's aim of paying off its €81m debt overhang rests largely on using its new €5m state-of-the-art full HD studio in the cleverest possible way, while taking an equally entrepreneurial approach to increasing TV audiences with existing and new shows, and carving out more money-spinning niches online.
In an anonymous-looking building on the station's Ballymount campus in west Dublin, tradesmen are busy putting the finishing touches to the 500sqm facility that is roughly the size of an average Spar shop and can comfortably seat audiences of up to 200 people.
With plenty more space again for dressing rooms, offices and control rooms, the building is adjacent to its existing building, where the existing small studio is in use 18 hours a day -- meaning it and the surrounding offices, operations and control rooms are a constant hive of activity.
The new studio, which is slightly bigger than RTE's studio 4 -- where the Late Late Show is filmed -- could see more shows with audience interaction beamed into our homes in the near future, be they X-Factor type or game shows, Vincent Browne or other new current affairs programmes.
The building might not be so anonymous for long.
Never one to overlook an opportunity, commercial director Pat Kiely is also exploring the possibility of branding the studio -- selling the naming rights to it for "a high six-figure sum".
"If a brand wants to be associated with cutting-edge technology and new opportunities in an Irish context, this is ideal. We're looking at brands in the fields of technology, electronics and broadcasting. Or we could call it the 'Sunday Independent Studio'," he says with a laugh.
A further €5m is being spent on new filming equipment to complement it, such as the latest cameras, which don't come cheap at €100,000 each.
"We want this to be a piece of national infrastructure. Some of the productions we've outsourced, such as Take Me Out and Mastermind, have up to now been filmed in other venues. Now we can bring them here.
"Ultimately, this studio is an investment that will make a profit for our owners [UK private equity giant Doughty Hanson].
"But by making it available to independent producers here or by offering it to UK and international TV companies at rates that will be more competitive than they are paying at the studios where, for instance, The X Factor is filmed, we hope it will make Dublin more attractive as a location for TV production, which in turn spins off to the wider economy," he adds.
New technology, such as compact Metrocams that just need a camera operator and avoid the use for a satellite van to accompany presenters or correspondents anywhere between Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium, will also help to broaden the range of programmes that it can make.
"Something like this brings new revenue-earning opportunities, but it is also more efficient," Kiely enthuses.
Another potential money-spinner he's looking at could see TV3 expanding the channel's offering to millions of Irish emigrants in the US, through a deal with TV internet box firm Roku that could see a dedicated subscription-based channel that would also have a pay-per-view option for individual programmes.
Expecting to earn €2m this year through its online content, thanks in part to Facebook and Twitter chatter about new programmes like Dublin Housewives, a new Xposé branded entertainment website could also bring in more hits from its age 15-44 target audience which appeals to key advertising buyers such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
The channel punches above its weight with these viewers, outperforming RTE2 for viewers, and outperforming BBC1, BBC2 and UTV combined for audiences as a whole, while three-year-old 3E is outperforming Sky1 and E4 for viewers, with double-digit growth that has seen its audience double. This is thanks to the likes of Glee, Family Guy and Europa League and Champions League Tuesday night football.
While currently engaged in a battle to get onto the new RTE-controlled Saorview platform ahead of the digital switchover in October, Kiely and TV3 CEO David McRedmond are keen to make up further ground since 2009, when a sharp downturn in ad spend in the wake of the financial crisis saw it post a staggering €165m loss resulting in pay cuts and redundancies.
Although it has earned meagre profits since then, if efforts to get RTE to compete fairly in the advertising market were successful, new channels and programmes and more export sales would bring new opportunities and jobs in addition to its current 250-strong workforce and roughly equal number of indirect employees at independent producers, Kiely argues.
For now it seems we'll have to stay tuned.