Sunday 22 April 2018

TV3 has grown up and is ready to challenge RTÉ One's dominance

Members of TV3's autumn schedule during the its launch at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Members of TV3's autumn schedule during the its launch at the National Concert Hall, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The selection of the National Concert Hall for the no-expense-spared, star-studded launch of TV3's autumn schedule speaks volumes about its ambitions.

Once derided as the gawky, if plucky, little sister of Irish television, the broadcaster - backed by the firepower of prolific deal-maker John Malone's Liberty Media Corporation - has entered a new growth phase and is now seeking to position itself as a direct competitor to RTÉ One.

Much like the Bible's Samson, whose supernatural powers worked only if he never cut his hair, RTÉ One's seemingly supernatural grasp over the TV watching public lies, for the most part, in the strength of its current affairs output.

Now TV3 is seeking to take a big snip out of that market dominance with the recruitment of former RTÉ broadcaster Pat Kenny to co-host a weekly current affairs programme with the station's Colette Fitzpatrick.

The programme will air on Wednesday nights with Kenny and Fitzpatrick debating the big issues of the day in front of a studio audience.

So far, so 'Frontline'.

However, the live format, focussing exclusively on current affairs, should play to Kenny's strengths and it could, in time, pose a challenge to RTÉ's flagship 'Prime Time', which airs every Tuesday and Thursday.

RTE doubled down on its current affairs offering in recent years, with an inspired decision to give Claire Byrne - one of only a handful of Irish broadcasters who can move from TV to radio with ease - her own programme.

However, the new Kenny/Fitzpatrick axis, combined with Vincent Browne's enduring, if at times inexplicable, late night appeal - as well as a new business programme for economist David McWilliams - is a signal of TV3's confidence and intent. TV3, which bought the rights to the Rugby World Cup in 2015, has traditionally punched above its weight despite the huge gulf in resources between it and its main rival.

But now it has money and it means business.

Last July, the TV3 Group appointed Bill Malone as director of programming, poaching him from his role as RTÉ2 channel controller.

It's not just current affairs. TV3's homegrown 'Red Rock' soap opera, which recently started a summer season broadcast run on BBC One, has proved a huge success. It will be given a new, one-hour weekly slot - no mean feat for a soap opera start-up.

TV3's assault on current affairs and its promise of cross-platform "advanced advertising" will give food for thought to Dee Forbes, the new Director General of RTÉ.

Forbes, the former head of the Discovery Channel in Europe, has had to contend with a major shake-up of the Irish media market - including Liberty's acquisition of UTV Ireland and the decision by Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp to buy seven Irish radio stations - in her first 100 days.

Now she has a resurgent TV3 on her hands.

TV3 may still be a relative minnow.

But with deeper pockets and ambition, it could more than nibble at the big players in the media tank.

Irish Independent

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