End of an era as UTV sells off its television division to ITV
Northern Ireland broadcaster UTV is due to sell its television division to ITV in a multi-million pound deal, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The move is expected to be confirmed to the London Stock Exchange next week and will mark the first time the TV channel has passed out of local control since it was set up in 1958.
UTV shows ITV programming as an owner of the Channel 3 franchise in Northern Ireland but the two are completely separate businesses.
Some of Northern Ireland's best-loved personalities have made their name on UTV, including Gloria Hunniford, Eamonn Holmes, Frank Mitchell, Anne Hailes, Julian Simmons and Pamela Ballantine.
Divesting itself of its TV division - makers of household name shows like UTV Live and Lesser Spotted Ulster - still leaves UTV with a hefty radio business made up of two divisions, Radio Ireland, comprising Belfast-based station U105 and eight channels in the Republic, and Radio Great Britain, made up of talkSPORT and 12 local stations.
For revenue, Radio GB is its healthiest division, with sales of £13.3m in the three months to the end of March this year, compared to Radio Ireland revenue of £4.7m and TV revenue of £11.8m.
In January, the company launched a new TV station, UTV Ireland though it's unclear if this would be included in a deal with ITV.
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UTV Media plc said in June that it expected UTV Ireland would suffer £11.5m in losses this year.
UPC, a subsidiary of ITV shareholder Liberty Global, recently acquired TV3, an Irish commercial channel and UTV Ireland's main rival.
Yesterday, UTV Media - one of just three listed companies in the province - refused to comment when asked about the deal.
"As a plc we never comment on speculation."
A spokesman for ITV trotted out exactly the same line.
Earlier this year, UTV Media plc, which is led by chief executive John McCann, acquired licences for four new digital radio stations.
There will be three speech radio stations - talkRADIO, talkSPORT 2 and talkBUSINESS - and the return of Virgin Radio under a 12-year licence agreement between UTV and the Virgin Group.
In its statement, UTV said the new stations would "complement talkSPORT and build on UTV's track record in speech broadcasting".
Economist John Simpson said: "I shall read the detail of this a little bit carefully as I'd be worried there'd be a shift of emphasis from local broadcasting, and I'd especially hope there won't be a shift away from local news."
UTV will give its half-year results next Friday, August 28.
In January this year UTV Media said it was assessing the options for its UK local radio stations which "may or may not lead to the disposal of some or all of these stations".
In June this year the company sold its Liverpool station Juice FM to Capital owner Global FM for £10m.
Last year, the company sold its 50% stake in housing website Propertypal and its jobs website Recruit NI was sold outright to Independent News and Media, the publisher of the Belfast Telegraph and owner of www.jobfinder.co.uk.