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Troubled UTV Ireland offloaded for £8.5m

By Margaret Canning and Donal O'Donovan

Published 12/07/2016

Alison Comyn, newsreader for UTV Ireland
Alison Comyn, newsreader for UTV Ireland

UTV Ireland, the troubled channel launched by Belfast-based UTV 18 months ago, has been sold for a second time.

The Dublin-based broadcaster is now part of Virgin Media after being sold by ITV for €10m (£8.5m).

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.

Don Anderson, the author of 50 Years Of UTV, said: "I'd now expect that UTV Ireland and TV3 will be merged, as I don't think there is an advertising market in the south to sustain the two."

Until UTV Ireland was set up, TV3 had shown top ITV programmes like Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the Republic.

It lost those rights when UTV Ireland started out - but Mr Anderson said he believed a merger between the channels was now likely, so that TV3 could win back the top programmes.

Virgin Media, which is part of Liberty Global Group in the US, said the deal was crucial to securing the future of UTV Ireland.

UTV Ireland was launched by then UTV Media chief executive John McCann in January 2015 - but disappointing audience figures led to it costing UTV Media £13m, four times the original estimate. 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. But series two of the show was snapped up by rival RTE.

Christy Swords, director of broadcast finance and operations for ITV, said yesterday: "Launching UTV Ireland last year represented a significant achievement by the teams in Dublin and Belfast in challenging circumstances.

"ITV took over the business a few months ago and we've concluded that bringing TV3 and UTV Ireland together under common ownership offers the best prospect of delivering a strong and sustainable Irish commercial broadcaster, underpinned by a long-term programming agreement with ITV.

"We recognise that this has been an uncertain period for the staff and we have been determined to reach a speedy resolution. We believe that the decision we have made represents an important step forward for the future of the channel."

UTV Media plc also owned a portfolio of 21 radio stations, including U105 and talkSPORT. Just under two weeks ago Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought the stations for £220m.

Mr 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."

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