Thursday 22 February 2018

TV3 success will stand or fall on Rugby World Cup

Sarah Jane Seymour at the TV3 Autumn 2015 launch at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sarah Jane Seymour at the TV3 Autumn 2015 launch at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, TV3 were looking over their shoulders as the spectre of a direct rival, UTV Ireland, loomed on the horizon. They'd also lost GAA rights to Sky, a damaging blow in an industry which often - in the words of Rupert Murdoch - uses sport as a "battering ram" in securing audience share.

Fast-forward to yesterday's launch of their autumn schedule at the Aviva, however, and TV3 were in bullish mood - understandably and deservedly so. Not only has UTV Ireland bombed badly, but TV3 have stolen a march on the national broadcaster, in more than one way.

Their biggest coup, of course, is the forthcoming Rugby World Cup. The Ballymount operation outbid RTÉ for exclusive rights, which is a serious statement of intent, both financially and editorially.

And while nothing is ever guaranteed in broadcasting, you'd have to consider this as close to a sure thing as it gets.

Rugby continues to enjoy unprecedented popularity, the competition takes place across the Irish Sea, and for once, we have a decent team and a good shot at doing well.

That all points to RWC 2015 being a ratings winner for TV3, albeit with a few caveats. Sports fans are funny, and can be very set in their ways; the thought of watching the rugger in the absence of RTÉ's Old Firm of Hooky, Popey and McGurk might seem strange to sporting couch potatoes.

But the alternative is to watch on ITV, which a) isn't Irish and b) is prone to some monumental gaffes in its sports coverage. Also, TV3 have the ever-dependable Matt Cooper on the bridge, ably flanked by the likes of Keith Wood, Peter Stringer and Malcolm O'Kelly.

Staying with sport, there's another coup, this one in a minor key: TV3 have lined up three of Manchester United's matches on their return to the Champions League after a one-year hiatus. They've also, to quote the press release, "been busy in the summer transfer market": Liverpool legend and ex-RTÉ pundit Graeme Souness has joined the panel. He's abrasive, straight-talking and, for a former midfield hardman, surprisingly intelligent.

The third flag flying proudly in TV3's parade is last night's return of 'Red Rock' for a second series. We've mentioned ambition before: this, in Irish TV terms, defines it.

A relatively huge budget is set at the service of a commendably bold television drama: a mix of soap opera, murder mystery and gritty drama. It's got good reviews and good viewing figures, and is a most welcome addition to primetime Irish programming.

On the flipside, there's a lot of fluff and nonsense on the TV3 autumn/winter schedule too. Now, that needs to be qualified. There's nothing wrong with fluff and nonsense per se; indeed, it's a core element of the medium. Furthermore, RTÉ delivers its fair share of pointless drivel too - they all do.

Still: titles like 'X Factor', 'Celebrity Big Brother' and 'Britain's Got Talent' invariably cause the heart to sink. Programmes with names like 'Geriatric Mums', 'Thelma's Communion Girls' and 'Ireland's Problem Pets' cause it to sink further.

But 'Broadchurch' is a quality drama, the new 'Saturday AM' and 'Sunday AM' discussion shows should be worth a watch - Ivan Yates was probably overdue a full-time hosting gig on the tube - and I like the sound of 'A Rough Guide to the Future', presented by Jonathan McCrea, who does an excellent science programme on Newstalk.

Ultimately, this new season will probably stand or fall on how many people tune into the rugger. Will fans answer Ireland's Call at a new location? TV3 must be hoping so.

Irish Independent

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