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UTV Ireland and TV3 will soon be part of one big company. What will that mean for viewers?

More soaps? Changes to news? More Pat Kenny?

IT WAS ANNOUNCED yesterday that UTV Ireland is to be sold to the company that already owns TV3. So what what will the change mean for viewers, and for staff at the two commercial broadcasters?

Here’s a recap of what’s been going on at the country’s newest TV station – and what could happen in the future…

UTV’s rocky start 

UTV Ireland was launched at the start of 2015 with much fanfare, after capturing the rights for soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale from rival TV3. It also launched a new news service, based at its studios near the Point in Dublin’s Docklands – and, later, a Pat Kenny-fronted chat show.

However, things soon started going awry for the station. Kenny’s show was axed; evening news co-anchor Chris Donoghue announced he was quitting, citing his work commitments at Newstalk; and in January station boss Mary Curtis confirmed she was resigning too.

UTV Media said last November it expected to lose €18.4 million on the station. That trading update came a month after it was announced the company was selling its entire TV operation to ITV, including its long-running Northern Ireland-based service.

File Photo Pat Kenny parts ways with UTV Ireland. It has been revealed that Pat Kenny and UTV Ireland have no plans to work together on any upcoming TV projects. Pat: axed Source: Rollingnews.ie

What’s happening now?

It was announced yesterday that UTV Ireland is to be sold to Virgin Media, which already owns TV3 and its sister station 3e. The price tag is around €10 million.

According to Christy Swords, director of broadcast finance and operations at ITV – which currently owns the UTV Ireland brand:

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.

As part of the deal, Virgin Media will also take over a 10-year programme supply agreement with ITV Global Entertainment – meaning the likes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale will stay with the new owners of TV3 and UTV Ireland.

Will its new owners keep the UTV Ireland brand?

The sale of UTV Ireland will take several months to get the go-ahead from regulators. Once the deal is rubber-stamped, will the brand be retained by its new owners?

Bob Hughes, a media analyst and former deputy director of news at TV3, told Morning Ireland today he imagines “there would be a certain rationalisation” between the three stations, adding “it’s too early to say how that will manifest itself”.

 “You would imagine that the UTV Ireland brand will disappear,” Hughes said.

That doesn’t mean that the channel itself will disappear – that’s something that Virgin Media and TV3 will have to look at very carefully.

45 UTV Ireland news anchor Alison Comyn Source: Jason Clarke

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, analyst with stockbrokers Davy, Robert Stokes, said it would make sense for Virgin Media to streamline its offerings as part of a new structure.

UTV Ireland could become synonymous with a particular niche vertical – whatever that might be: whether it be sport or soap operas. If UTV Ireland is soap operas then TV3 could be breaking news and sport – clearly delineating the two channels from one another.

Will the soaps be changing channel?

The loss of Coronation Street and Emmerdale was a major blow for TV3 – but it resulted in the Ballymount broadcaster ploughing investment into its own homegrown soap, Red Rock.

3 Source: ITV screengrab

Speaking this morning, Bob Hughes said the fact that TV3′s owners had regained the rights to the UK soaps was “an extremely important development for TV3 and Virgin Media”. 

It made a huge impact on [audience] share for TV3 when those soaps were lost. In fact it was the most significant development in TV3′s future – around its security. 

While Red Rock didn’t pull all those viewers back to the channel, it had been a “critical success” for TV3, Hughes said. The TV3-commissioned show, set in a fictional seaside town just outside Dublin, made its debut on BBC One yesterday.

What impact will the deal have on the two news services?

TV3 has run a news service since the channel’s set-up in 1998, and launched a new 8pm bulletin in March of last year, after losing the rights to the weekday evening soaps. UTV Ireland launched its own service, based at its Dublin Docklands studios, as the station went on air last year.

“It’s difficult to see two newsrooms coexisting,” Hughes said today.

But it would depend on whether the UTV Ireland channel continues in its new branding and whether there will be a separate news service for that.

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The former TV3 executive added that the new investment could be good news for staff at both stations, noting that Virgin Media had made “a very strong statement about establishing a strong commercial broadcaster” and clearly planned to invest in programming.

456 Colette Fitzpatrick of TV3 News Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Stokes, the analyst from Davy, said that when it came to assessing what decisions might be made regarding staffing it was still “very early days”.

However, he said, the deal “shows a clear commitment by Virgin Media to Ireland”.

They’ve the best part of €100 million invested in Irish television operations. It shows they’re here for the long term. Whether or not there is consolidation amongst particular functions time will tell.

And finally…

Since parting company with UTV Ireland, Pat Kenny has fronted a number of high-profile shows at Ballymount – including a pre-election leader’s debate.

So will the new deal mean more Pat or less Pat on our screens?

pjimage Pat Kenny in his TV3 and UTV guises.

We’ll leave that one to his potential new bosses to figure out.

From last year: Things are going from bad to worse at UTV Ireland >

Related: A clitoris and Jeremy Corbyn were mentioned on UTV Ireland’s news and nobody noticed >

Also: Here’s why TV3 isn’t showing Downton Abbey on Sunday nights >

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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