UTV talent drive heaps pressure on their rivals
Top names from RTE and TV3 will be scouring the newspapers this week ready to jump ship as the first round of UTV jobs come up for grabs.
In a year when several big names have already left RTE, including Steve Carson, Claire Duignan and Pat Kenny, the news will do little to alleviate the talent drain on the national broadcaster.
And the latest development will heap huge pressure on TV3, which will lose some of its most popular shows, including ratings heavyweights Coronation Street and Emmerdale.
The boss of UTV's new operation south of the Border, Michael Wilson, has told the Sunday Independent he will be looking for "a vibrant new team to lead the Irish content" – including a 'head of channel' and 'head of news'.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Wilson said he is intent on getting the best names available.
"We are playing a serious game here. This is not scratching the surface of launching a channel. We are the new hot ticket in town for talent both on and off screen in Ireland and, to be honest, we are already delighted with the calibre of people that have approached us."
Of the 100 new jobs, it is expected around half will be editorial with other roles including transmission, scheduling, sales and advertising.
"A number of well-known names in the media industry have contacted us already and we will be recruiting presenters next year."
As the broadcaster prepares to battle it out for Irish viewers, the station boss confirmed his plans to launch a nightly news and current affairs show, which could see the station go head-to-head with TV3's Vincent Browne.
But rather than poaching established stars, Mr Wilson, says the station is on the hunt for a "new face".
"We are pursuing people who will be of our own brand and not strongly associated with any other station. Poaching well-known faces from other stations doesn't appeal to me."
Despite Mr Wilson's comments, former RTE star Pat Kenny, now with Newstalk, has been linked with a possible current affairs programme on the new UTV operation.
Mr Wilson, 44, earned his stripes as head of television at UTV Television, managing editor at Sky News Ireland and senior news editor at Sky News.
TV3 managing director David McRedmond says the UTV move is nothing the station hasn't seen before.
"We have seen off much bigger threats than this, the analogue switch-off last year was far tougher and we went and got those viewers back again. They said the same when Channel 6 came into the market, when Sky News Ireland came in, and we saw them all off."
Speaking about UTV winning the rights to major shows, he added: "This is a very deliberate action taken by TV3 to say we are not prepared to keep throwing much-needed TV3 funds at ITV each year, when we could be investing them in developing our own quality content."
In a further development yesterday, BT Sport has signed a £1bn deal to broadcast Champions League and Europa League matches for three years from 2015.
BT has agreed to pay around £299m a season for the rights to all 350 matches in the two Uefa competitions each season. The Champions League is currently broadcast by Sky Sports and UTV.
However, the change is a fillip for TV3. A spokeswoman said: "This does not affect coverage on TV3 as the Irish rights are completely separate to the UK rights. We have rights until 2015 and this actually puts us in a good position."