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Eclipse of UTV brand sad, but that is media world we now live in

By Paul Connolly

Published 08/07/2016

ITV’s £100m deal to buy UTV’s television assets was completed back in February
ITV’s £100m deal to buy UTV’s television assets was completed back in February

And so farewell UTV. Yes, it's true you live on, a shadow of your former self, on our screens in the form of UTV Live and UTV Life and, er, well that's more or less about it at the moment.

The remains of the influential company you once were are fast disappearing; the telly side swallowed up by ITV and rest of the meaty corpse now being devoured by Rupert Murdoch's new appetite for radio.

If you want to see what looks like being an example of UTV's future, go to Google and type in u.tv. Once upon a time there appeared a cornucopia of local news, views and well-made regional TV programmes. Faces you knew, programmes you might want to watch, news and features about our rather newsworthy corner of the world.

Now? All you get is a redirect to www.itv.com. A search for UTV News redirects to www.itv.com/news/utv. If u.tv hasn't all but disappeared from the internet then someone is doing a good job of suggesting otherwise.

The station's catch-up and on demand services have now been merged into the ITV hub, so that identity is being lost, too.

Plus, there's a new logo to "better reflect" UTV's position within the ITV brand - cynics might say it helps the process of erasing UTV as a distinct entity. All of this undoubtedly makes commercial sense from a big business standpoint, but on the human and regional level it's sad to see this great company evaporating in front of our eyes.

It's true that UTV Live and its siblings do a great job holding market share given their meagre resources.

There is still good journalism there for now, but the formerly crystal-clear regional identity is being lost. It was at least heartening to see Ofcom insist that ITV meets its public service obligations in the UTV takeover by retaining its local news obligations, and indeed raising its current affairs output from 26 to 33 minutes a week. But ITV did rather ominously warn that UTV already "over-serves" local programming - and a betting man would suggest ITV will try to wriggle out of all its local news and current affairs come the next licensing round. News-gathering, you see, is expensive.

What of the other divisions of UTV? If reports are true UTV Ireland could be up for sale - possibly even merged with TV3. Can't see the UTV side of the brand surviving that amalgamation.

In recent years UTV built an impressive radio empire. Now News Corp is buying the radio division, which was renamed The Wireless Group in February. Rupert's main interest is talkSPORT, which is a perfect fit with The Sun. But what of the many fine local radio stations, including locally-based U105? Will they be sold later?

It's all a far cry from the glory days when Gerry Kelly could pull in international celebrities and Counterpoint and Insight were bywords for investigative journalism, even triggering the disintegration of an Irish Government.

All of this is no surprise, of course. The media landscape, including the Press, has been greatly disrupted.

We'll continue to watch you, UTV, as long as you're still around. But always with a tinge of regret that the good old days are gone.

Belfast Telegraph

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