Virgin Media says UTV Ireland deal may be done by end of year
Virgin Media hopes to complete its takeover of UTV Ireland by the end of the year, its boss has said. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Tony Hanway, chief executive of Virgin Media Ireland, refused to rule out cutbacks at the broadcaster.
He also accepted there was "no question" the business had been struggling.
UTV Ireland, the troubled channel launched by Belfast-based UTV, was sold by ITV for €10m (£8.5m), earlier this year.
Launched by then UTV Media chief executive John McCann in January 2015, disappointing audience figures led to it costing UTV Media £13m - four times the original estimate.
"We have been concentrating on getting through the competition process and hopefully are near the last stage," Mr Hanway stressed.
The deal to take on UTV Ireland has already cleared the competition authority and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, but is still awaiting sign-off from the Minister for Communications.
Mr Hanway said that he hoped to get approval by the end of the year.
"We are delighted...UTV had huge plans in the Republic and it didn't work out," he added. "We are very excited, (it has) great content and it's the right market."
But he said while it was not currently in the pipeline, the media giant would consider bringing TV3 to Northern Ireland.
"It's not in the pipeline now, but we have received queries and feedback from consumers," he added. "It's something we would consider, but there are no concrete plans.
"We have to work at things in a phased way. We will always listen to what consumers are saying and mull over our options."
Until UTV Ireland was set up, TV3 had shown top ITV programmes like Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the Republic.
But Mr Hanway would not confirm whether the takeover of UTV Ireland would mean a cutback in the workforce.
"We have avoided any comment ... there is no question it has been struggling," he said.
Asked about ITV's takeover of UTV's television assets in Northern Ireland, he replied: "Consolidation in these industries is inevitable. It's usually good.
"ITV is a big broadcaster and they will make the right decisions for the channel."
Virgin Media is also a major broadband provider - and Mr Hanway said it was investing £3bn as part of Project Lightning to roll out its network throughout the UK.
"We have been connecting more homes and businesses,"he added. We are connecting more houses and bringing ultra-fast broadband to more premises." He said traditionally, broadband connectivity and speeds across Northern Ireland remain "poor".
In February, UTV Ireland was part of a £100m deal by ITV to acquire the television assets of UTV Media plc in Belfast.
Virgin Media also owns TV3, another commercial broadcaster in the Republic.
There were some winning programmes, including a reality show, Daniel and Majella's B&B Road Trip, in which country crooner Daniel O'Donnell and his wife Majella toured Ireland's B&Bs. However, series two of the show was snapped up by rival RTE.
UTV Media plc also owned a portfolio of 21 radio stations, including U105 and talkSPORT. And earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought the stations for £220m.
Don Anderson, who published 50 Years Of UTV in 2009, said: "When I wrote my book, I thought, 'It will be interesting to see what the next half century brings to UTV'. I didn't have too long to find out."