Friday 20 April 2018

AdLib: What now for bought-out UTV?

Media & Marketing with Michael Cullen

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in the Ab Fab movie, which isn’t a hit in some PR circles
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in the Ab Fab movie, which isn’t a hit in some PR circles
Actress Cathy Belton, who plays Patricia Hennessy; Pat Kiely, TV3 group managing director; Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC Daytime; and actor Sean Mahon, who plays Sergeant Brian McGonigle in Red Rock, pictured in London
David McRedmond, formerly of TV3

The €10m sale of UTV Ireland to TV3's Virgin Media comes as no surprise whatsoever. If anything, most people in adland would ask the question: how the heck did a buyout deal take so long?

Or, even more to the point, why did UTV Ireland launch in the first place? It seems there was neither rhyme nor reason to the new station.

Not alone was there no perceptible gap in the market, there was no market in the gap.

Every brand must have a unique selling proposition (USP) or - at the very least - offer something viable. UTV Ireland had the idea of putting all its proverbial eggs in one basket by selling advertisers 'Coronation Street' and 'Emmerdale' as an audience puller. But they couldn't crack it.

TV3 had seen what was coming down the line and reacted by rolling out its own new soap, 'Red Rock'.

While ratings for the Garda drama are far from spectacular, viewers saw a storyline, cast and production values that was to their liking. It's been bought by Amazon and the BBC.

TV Ireland shied away from providing quality Irish content. Efforts to beef up its schedule with head of channel Mary Curtis returning to RTE to hire Pat Kenny to present Michael Parkinson-style celebrity chats in the Mansion House fell flat with viewers.

Re-runs of the ITV Studios' rights were simply more of the same, while news bulletins from UTV Ireland's spanking new studios in Dublin's Macken House never got off the ground, with early news bulletins figures hugely embarrassing.

Media agencies were frustrated at worst and annoyed at best at the dearth of quality content they could offer clients.

UTV Ireland even failed to sign up Daniel and Majella O'Donnell to a second series - losing out to RTE. Weak content aside, at the end of the day, ITV wanted nothing to do with UTV Ireland and was anxious to offload it as this year's losses run to about €20m.

As part of the deal, Virgin Media will also take over a ten-year programme agreement with ITV Global Entertainment.

So what now? TV3's now chief executive Pat Kiely labelled UTV Ireland as just an opt out service - not a proper national station as such. To what extent his Virgin Media owner will now opt in or out of UTV Ireland is anyone's guess.

It may well end up like a version of Lanigan's Ball: "Three long weeks I spent up in Dublin, three long weeks learning nothing at all; three long weeks I spent up in Dublin, learning new steps for Lanigan's Ball.

"She stepped out and I stepped in again, I stepped out and she stepped in again, she stepped out and I stepped in again, learning new steps for Lanigan's Ball."

* Elsewhere in telly land, Sky will launch Ultra HD picture quality on Sky Q Silver from mid-August. The line-up includes 124 live Premier League football and over 70 new exclusive movies, including the world premiere of 'Spectre', 'Bridge of Spies' with Tom Hanks and 'The Revenant' with Leonardo DiCaprio.

David Attenborough's 'Conquest of the Skies', 'Young Pope' starring Jude Law and series four of 'The Blacklist' are also in the pipeline. Ultra HD is available to customers with a Sky Q Silver box and subscription at no extra cost. The news coincides with Sky adding the RTÉ Player to its catch up TV service. A Sky spokesman said the move is part of a long-term partnership between BSkyB and RTÉ to increase the number of channels and the ways in which content can be accessed on Sky's services in Ireland.

* 'Absolutely Fabulous The Movie', starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, pictured, has prompted some reaction on how the BBC comedy series sends up people in PR. Writing in the Public Relations Institute (PRII) ezine, Yellow Machine's Anthony O'Brien says 'Ab Fab' gives PR a bad name and falsely represents the business.

O'Brien doesn't believe Saunders' character Edina with her wild lifestyle and work ethic would cut the mustard. As much craic as might be had with Lumley's Patsy, O'Brien says he couldn't tackle his workload if he was to party through the night, shop all morning and only arrive to the office after lunch.

* Staying with PR, former TV3 boss David McRedmond, pictured, has joined Powerscourt as non-executive chairman. After leaving TV3, McRedmond was among the candidates who applied for the RTE's director general post. His CV includes stints with Eircom, Waterstones and WH Smith. Launched by Rory Godson in London in 2004, Powerscourt opened a Dublin office last year. Advisors include Jack Hickey and David D'Arcy.

* Catherine Heaney of DHR Communications will chair the National Museum. Heaney previously chaired the Heritage Council's finance and audit services. PR consultant Mary Crotty is one of 16 appointments to the museum's board.

Michael Cullen is editor of

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