Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

UTV shake up broadcasting in Ireland with new channel

Broadcaster's foray into Republic will be boosted by 'cash cow' soaps

Managing Director of UTV Television Michael Wilson (left) and Group Chief Executive of UTV Media plc John McCann at a press conference in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin.

UTV Media plc will wield the mighty Coronation Street and Emmerdale in its first official foray into the Irish TV market with new channel UTV Ireland.

The channel will be based in Dublin and will be supported by news staff in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick.

The 'cash cow' soaps are among the programmes signed over to UTV by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, giving UTV exclusive broadcast rights in Ireland.

Although UTV said the channel marked a "significant investment" which would create 100 jobs, it has declined to reveal the exact cost of its plans.

The channel will also broadcast a nightly news and current affairs programme when it comes on air in early 2015.

The agreement between UTV and ITV was signed on Tuesday with UTV Ireland now ready to submit an application to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) for a contract.

UTV Media plc, which owns 21 radio stations across the British Isles, including TalkSport, said it should know by Christmas whether the authority will grant its application. UTV Ireland will only be available on TV screens in the Republic.

John McCann, group chief executive at UTV, said signs of growth in the Irish economy acted as a catalyst to the bid.

"Essentially what we'll be doing in Ireland is replicating what we do in Northern Ireland where we take an ITV network schedule and we customise that with the needs and preferences of the viewers there," he said.

"The audience in Ireland has known the UTV brand for more than 50 years through our station for Northern Ireland."

Hugh Oram, a Dublin-based media journalist, author and broadcaster, said UTV "already knows the market in the south inside out".

Don Anderson, the author of 50 years of UTV, said: "UTV management has in recent times tried to be ahead of the curve, and a downturn can represent an opportunity for investment.

"In business terms, it appears that the Republic is beginning to emerge from the depression and UTV's new channel could rise on that economic tide."

There has been a spate of redundancies at UTV Media plc's headquarters in Belfast. One of just three listed companies in Northern Ireland, it reported a 43% decline in pre-tax profits to £6.1m in the first six months of the year but UTV chairman Richard Huntingford said in August that he was confident more prosperous times were ahead.

On Radio Ulster last night, UTV managing director Michael Wilson said recent job cuts in Belfast were unrelated to the business plans for the south. "It's a separate company and a separate business," he said.

Those losing their jobs in Belfast could apply for positions in the new venture, he said.

The company is expected to cut eight video editor and camera operator jobs in Belfast.

Dan Cooke, an official at broadcasting trade union Bectu, said: "Announcing 100 new jobs as a result of expansion into TV in the Republic, at a time that the company is about to make up to eight people redundant in Belfast is deeply insulting to the staff in Belfast."

The news will come as a blow to TV3 which currently brings the two British soaps and other ITV programmes to Irish viewers.