Channel wars: TV3 faces huge UTV soap challenge
UTV'S new Irish television station will battle head-to-head with RTE and TV3 for viewers, management at the media group has vowed.
Announcing plans for the new station yesterday, UTV said it intends to create a major player in the Irish media market.
Like its rivals, the new station will produce its own daily evening news shows, and is applying for a channel on free-tv service Saorview.
"In terms of where we see our sights, let me be absolutely clear – we are a mainstream public service broadcaster. We are aiming to go head-to-head with RTE and TV3," said managing director Michael Wilson.
He added that everything hinged on securing the exclusive rights to broadcast ITV content in Ireland from 2015.
That deal closed just hours before UTV submitted a licence for the new station to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland yesterday.
"It's one of the most significant investments that UTV has ever made," said Mr Wilson.
This agreement means TV3 will lose the rights to show 'Coronation Street', 'Emmerdale' and 'The Jeremy Kyle Show', which senior TV3 executives yesterday admitted was a blow.
But even though the bulk of its programming will come from ITV, at least 10pc of content from the new UTV channel will be original and Irish-themed.
Documentaries and other current affairs programmes are planned alongside the one-hour daily news show, though the station will not produce its own dramas.
Its production team will be based in Dublin's docklands area near radio stations FM104 and Q102 – also owned by UTV. It will have news-gathering operations in Cork, Galway and Limerick, creating 100 new jobs, split between editorial and support roles.
There have been a small number of redundancies in the group's Northern operation recently. Management said those were undertaken "in preparation" for the expansion.
It claimed that the new channel should break even in its first year and be profitable by 2016.
They refused to say whether they had considered a takeover of cash-strapped TV3 before launching plans for a rival.
TV3 chief executive David McRedmond admitted that the loss of some of its biggest shows would be a blow but said they had become too expensive to be sustainable.
"Coronation Street' is a blockbuster soap, there's no doubt about that, and it attracts huge viewers over a short period, so I won't deny any impact," he told the Irish Independent.
'Coronation Street', 'Jeremy Kyle' and 'Emmerdale' account for a fifth of all TV3 viewing.
But Mr McRedmond said those shows had become too expensive for TV3. "We'd love to have done another contract on them, but only at an economic price.
"We're not RTE, we're not in a position to lose money," he said.
Instead, Dublin-based TV3 is in the early stages of developing its own soap.
It has just closed a tendering process for bids from production houses interested in producing this on its behalf.
Mr McRedmond added that shows like 'The X Factor' and period drama 'Downton Abbey' will not be affected by UTV's introduction in Ireland, as they were made by independent production companies. And the station's coverage of Champions League football action will continue as is.
Meanwhile, RTE said the launch of a new channel with "very clear commercial aspirations" only further emphasised the need for a public service broadcaster.
The taxpayer-funded organisation said Ireland is one of the most competitive media markets in Europe.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte welcomed the news, though he said it came as a "surprise".
"One has to be positive about it. It's more competition," said the minister.
But he warned that there may be an issue surrounding how heavily UTV can advertise in Ireland.
UTV could not confirm on which platform the station will air, but said it intends to apply to free-view service Saorview and will be negotiating with private television service providers like UPC and Sky.
Mr Wilson said it was unlikely to have any problems securing a deal with all three providers.