Belfast Telegraph

UTV Ireland clears first hurdle in takeover deal


By John Mulgrew

UTV's £100m sale to ITV has been given the green light by the Republic's broadcasting authority, it can be revealed. The sign-off by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is one of the first regulatory hurdles the broadcaster has to face for the deal to go through. A spokeswoman for UTV confirmed the BAI board has now "approved the sale of UTV Ireland to ITV".

"The other regulatory processes continue and we anticipate will conclude in the first quarter of 2016," it said.

And a spokesman for BAI said the "proposed sale of UTV Ireland was approved" by the organisation on Thursday.

"However, it should be stressed that there are a range of other regulatory approvals required both here (Competition Authority) and in the UK," it said.

The company's TV division, which includes UTV in Northern Ireland and UTV Ireland, was sold back in October in a £100m deal, although the sale will not complete until early next year.

The completion of the takeover deal is subject to shareholder approval and regulatory approval by Ofcom, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Irish Minister for Communications.

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The BAI has a similar role to Ofcom, and will ensure UTV Ireland's programming commitments continue to be observed.

Under a licensing deal with regulator Ofcom, UTV in Belfast currently broadcasts four hours of news and two hours of other content a week, with the rest of its schedules filled with content from ITV.

It's understood a decision by Ofcom is expected in the new year.

UTV Ireland has suffered a troubled start to its broadcasting in the Republic, after it became the first new commercial broadcaster since 1998.

It's been plagued by low viewing figures, while 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.

That was more than four times its original estimate.

Its flagship chat show, Pat Kenny in the Round, was also cancelled after one series.

UTV Media plc agreed to sell its television stations and brand to ITV in October, after it was first revealed earlier this year by the Belfast Telegraph.

That will leave UTV as a radio-focused business, which will change its name as part of the deal. ITV has said it will retain the UTV name rather than rebrand the television business as ITV Northern Ireland.

Last month, Ni21 MLA Basil McCrea said senior UTV personnel should be called before the Assembly's committee for culture, arts and leisure to discuss the TV division's takeover by ITV.

Mr McCrea said he had spoken to UTV staff, concerned their jobs could be at risk after the takeover.

Meanwhile, the London market rose sharply yesterday morning as Downton Abbey broadcaster ITV surged ahead on the back of takeover talk. The FTSE 100 Index lifted by more than 50 points, reaching a high of 6,113, amid reports that executives from US media giant Comcast have held discussions with ITV executives about a tabling a bid for the UK firm, said the Mail on Sunday, without citing sources.

Belfast Telegraph

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