Belfast Telegraph

Troubled UTV Ireland losing £4,000 a day as viewers find its shows a turn-off

By Margaret Canning

UTV Ireland has been losing its Belfast parent company nearly £4,000 a day since launching in January, it has emerged.

UTV Media plc said it had increased expected losses for its Ireland TV channel to £13m for the 11 months to the end of November - over four times its original estimate.

UTV Ireland has failed to capture the viewers necessary to attract significant advertising revenues, leading to its losses.

Its flagship chat show, Pat Kenny in the Round, was also axed after one series - while news anchor Chris Donoghue is leaving next month.

The company's TV division - including UTV in Northern Ireland and UTV Ireland - were sold last month to ITV in a £100m deal, although the sale will not complete until early next year.

A spokeswoman for UTV Media plc said the latest loss update would have no impact on the planned purchase price, while ITV said "we intend to strengthen the channel further with high quality ITV programming at its core".

The losses will have no impact on viewers of UTV in Northern Ireland - and people are not expected to notice a big difference when the takeover goes through.

Darren McKinley, an analyst at stockbroker Merrion, said UTV Ireland's programming had been beset by difficulties since launch.

"They lost their news person, with UTV Ireland's news being a total disaster in terms of viewers. The Pat Kenny show has been canned because it was too costly. They underestimated the challenge of taking share from RTE.

"The shows that have been successful are Daniel's B&B Road Trip and Rare Breed, but otherwise the lack of content has been a disaster."

In a company update yesterday, UTV Media plc said uncertainty around speculation that its TV assets were to be sold had a "negative impact" on trading within its Irish business, and was continuing to do so.

But the update added: "Trading within our Northern Irish television business and our radio division is broadly in line with the board's expectations."

In an update in June, the company had anticipated the new product would cost it £11.5m.

The channel was launched to a fanfare in January this year but has disappointed viewers, critics and stock market analysts alike.

As well as importing popular programmes such as soap operas Coronation Street and Emmerdale, it has also made some of its own shows, including Daniel and Majella's B&B Road Trip, featuring the country crooner Daniel O'Donnell and his wife Majella sampling bed and breakfasts across the country.

It also broadcast Wild Ireland, a travelogue along the Wild Atlantic Way, hosted by Co Down's Christine Bleakley.

One TV critic dismissed the programming direction as "touristy tat". "Attempting to win over an Irish audience using dewy-eyed celeb impressions of Irishness is like trying to make hay from AstroTurf," they added.

Commentator and author Hugh Oram, who is based in Dublin, said the Daniel and Majella show had gone down well with viewers but added: "Many of the UK-originated shows on UTV Ireland, like Good Morning Britain, This Morning and Loose Women, make often less relevant viewing in Ireland. Daytime programming on UTV Ireland remains problematic.

"In the evenings, too, UTV Ireland has yet to make the same impact with its news programmes as RTE One does with its Six One news show. Some evening programming on UTV Ireland is still weak, such as its competition to the top-rated Late Late Show on RTE One on Friday nights."

Belfast Telegraph

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