Business Irish

Sunday 17 November 2019

UTV Ireland confirmed to be part of sale deal to ITV

It is believed that UTV Ireland's weakness has helped ITV's hand in talks.
It is believed that UTV Ireland's weakness has helped ITV's hand in talks.

Margaret Canning

UTV Ireland is included in the sale of TV assets being sold by UTV Media plc to ITV, it's been confirmed.

There had been a question mark over whether the sale of the TV division would include the beleaguered Irish channel, which has had disappointing viewing figures since its launch in January.

But a spokeswoman confirmed that UTV Ireland is on the table along with the Belfast TV station, which kick-started the careers of broadcasters Eamonn Holmes and Julian Simmons among others.

The spokeswoman said: "I can confirm that our TV assets include both UTV and UTV Ireland - talks have always beeen about the sale of both TV channels."

Meanwhile, reports at the weekend said that the deal - first revealed in the 'Belfast Telegraph' in August - would conclude this week.

Analysts have also put the value of the deal at £100m (€135m) to £125m.

Speculation that the sale would soon to conclude prompted a 7pc jump in UTV's share price yesterday, though it closed up 5.36pc. The stock has fallen 20pc from its January 2015 peak and its market value is about £156m.

It's believed the weak performance of UTV Ireland has strengthened ITV's hand in negotiations.

The UTV spokeswoman said it would not comment on speculation about the timing of the deal, while ITV also said it would not comment.

It's the latest in a string of deals by ITV in which it has snapped up regional broadcasters which hold the Channel 3 licence. Only STV in Scotland remains an independent Channel 3 regional broadcaster - though it could be ITV's next target.

The company also recently took over the production firm which makes 'The Voice' for around £780m.

Don Anderson, author of '50 Years of UTV', which was published to mark the company's semicentennial in 2009, said the plc indicated well before the advent of UTV Ireland that it could one day sell its TV division.

But he added: "It's a moot point as to whether it would have put its arm up at this point were it not for UTV Ireland. I would have to say that UTV Ireland may have tipped the scales towards selling its TV assets."

And the all-island reach of the TV assets would make them all the more attractive to ITV. "UTV Ireland isn't making positive impact at the moment but that isn't to say this will still be the case in future."

UTV Ireland reported half-year losses of £7.5m.

Divesting itself of its TV division still leaves UTV with a hefty radio business made up of two divisions, Radio Ireland, comprising Belfast-based station U105 and eight channels in the Republic, and Radio Great Britain, made up of talkSPORT and 11 local stations.

Last week UTV closed its deal selling Liverpool-based Juice FM to Global Radio for £10m.

Irish Independent

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