Mobile customers to get TV services direct to phones
Two of Ireland's three biggest TV operators are to offer their TV services direct to mobile phone customers as the Government considers introducing a licence fee for larger screens.
Eir has announced that it is launching a premium sports TV service direct to its Meteor mobile customers' phones.
Meanwhile, Sky is to launch a new a la carte TV service here aimed at phones and tablets that could see users watch television without paying for a TV licence.
Meteor's new service will include seven Eir Sport channels to 55,000 of its postpay subscribers.
Incorporating BT Sport, the channels will show Premier League football, Champions League, GAA and Formula One.
The operator is to add the service without any other Eir subscription and with no mobile data limits attached to viewing the channels when out and about.
The channels to be included are Eir Sports 1 and 2, BoxNation and four BT Sport channels.
'Now TV', run by Sky, will feature movies, sport and live television.
It will offer monthly 'passes' with access to Sky Sport, Sky Movies, ordinary live channels or kids' television stations.
In the UK, the service costs from £3 (€3.40) per month. Its sports service, which includes Premier League football, costs from €40 per month.
In Ireland, Eir has 63,000 television customers while Sky has 700,000.
The moves by the operators mark an acceleration in so-called 'cord-cutting', where younger homeowners are watching less traditional television, choosing more diverse video sources and screen options.
Research by TV industry analyst Nielsen suggests that faster mobile networks and bigger, more powerful smartphones are causing a shift to small screen viewing.
The upcoming iPhone 8 is set to feature a bigger screen size than current models, while Samsung's recently launched Galaxy S8 Plus phone has a screen almost as large as a tablet.
Almost half of Irish people now watch video on a phone, while the rise of on-demand services such as Netflix, Sky Go, YouTube and the RTÉ Player are sucking viewers away from scheduled television services.
Other research indicates that Ireland watches more video and television content on phones than other countries.
"This is an opportunity for us," a spokesman for Eir said.
"It's a vote of confidence in our network because it shows we can deliver the content across different platforms. It drives our overall strategy of convergence."
The Government is currently considering proposals from Communications Minister Denis Naughten to change Ireland's TV licence law.
Under the proposals, any screen over 11 inches in size would require a TV licence and not just traditional television sets.
In a move that could generate an extra €5m a year for cash-strapped RTÉ, Mr Naughten is devising plans to broaden the reach of the licence fee.
The Broadcasting Act 2009 currently gives a broad definition of a 'television set' as "any electronic apparatus capable of receiving and exhibiting television broadcasting services broadcast for general reception".
But the law states that "non-portable television sets capable of exhibiting television broadcasting services distributed by means of the publicly available internet" are exempt from paying the TV licence.
Mr Naughten now hopes to delete this exemption using his ministerial powers, with the effect that internet usage will be accounted for and a large number of devices brought into the TV licence net.