Belfast Telegraph

UTV becomes the Wireless Group after £100m sale goes ahead

By Margaret Canning

UTV Media has been renamed the Wireless Group after the sale of its television assets to ITV was completed this week.

The portfolio of 22 radio stations was rebranded following ITV's £100m deal to buy Ulster Television and UTV Ireland from UTV Media plc.

UTV and UTV Ireland's 250 staff are now part of ITV's global television business, while managing director Michael Wilson will remain in his role as managing director of TV on both sides of the border.

The deal was confirmed by UTV Media plc in October, after it was first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph in August.

Economist John Simpson said it was a "sad note" for Ulster Television's 57 year-history as an independent, local TV broadcaster to end on.

Mr Simpson added that the transaction "takes away the coherence of a local company, and it now faces uncertain future".

"It hasn't happened in a way that would encourage you to think that it's going to enhance the services in a way that benefits us as citizens.

"It's been a decision taken by directors which will benefit shareholders but the TV channel is likely to have a decreased local emphasis."

This week Adam Crozier, the chief executive of ITV, told how UTV had acted as a "terrific partner to ITV for many years" and was now a "full part of our company, and I am delighted to welcome everyone there to the ITV family".

"We recognise the strength of UTV in Northern Ireland. UTV Live is one of the most successful and highest rating news programmes in the whole of ITV," he added.

UTV's former digital business, which embraces agency Simply Zesty and internet business Simply Zesty, also joins the Wireless Group.

The Wireless Group also unveiled an exciting line-up of presenters for its new digital stations, talkRADIO, talkSPORT2 and Virgin Radio.

Edith Bowman will present a breakfast show on Virgin while controversial politician and Brexit campaigner George Galloway - and Paul Ross, brother of ITV chat show host Jonathan - join talkRADIO.

The new stations are being launched at the end of this month.

The plc is receiving net proceeds of £98m from the sale of the TV assets, and will be returning £55m to shareholders.

The sum will be returned in two stages with a share issue of £50.8m, followed by a special dividend payment in July.

The radio business now has a new website, www.wirelessgroupplc.com, while the www.u.tv website now has no mention of UTV Media plc.

The name marks a return to UTV's beginnings in radio 11 years ago. In 2005, it made its first serious foray into the medium when it bought the Wireless Group for £100m - the company which then owned talkSPORT and local radio stations in England, Scotland and Wales.

Speaking at the time, UTV chief executive John McCann said: "I do not see why radio and TV cannot sit very comfortably together. "There is no reason why TV has to go and we become a radio player."

Belfast Telegraph

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