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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 16 January, 2019
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Virgin Media Television has best year ever with 'record' viewing figures

The company rebranded all its channels late last year.

Former love Island contestant Megan Barton-Hanson, Wes Nelson Actress Denise Van Outen with Comedian Jason Byrne and Irish model Glenda Gilson at Virgin Media spring press briefing for its 2019 TV schedule
Former love Island contestant Megan Barton-Hanson, Wes Nelson Actress Denise Van Outen with Comedian Jason Byrne and Irish model Glenda Gilson at Virgin Media spring press briefing for its 2019 TV schedule
Image: Leah Farrell

VIRGIN MEDIA TELEVISION had a record 2018, with viewing figures up 7% year-on-year compared to the previous 12 months, it was announced today.

Its director of programming Bill Malone made the announcement as he launched the spring schedule for the company, which rebranded last year. 

The spring schedule for Virgin Media One will see familiar faces return on shows like Ireland’s Got Talent and Red Rock.

It will see the Love Island stable expand to include the Australian and American versions of the programme, as well as new documentaries on topics such as Irish paedophile hunters and the disappearance of Fiona Sinnott. On top of this there will be a huge amount of sports programming, and more Irish films to coincide with the sponsored Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

At the launch today in the Alex Hotel, Malone – formerly of RTÉ – told TheJournal.ie: “2018 was a big year for us – we had our record year of audience viewing ever, and that’s up 7% year-on-year.”

He said that 2019 is “about looking forward, building that momentum”, and singled out the sports coverage in particular to demonstrate the range of content due on the Virgin Media channels – including the Six Nations, Heineken Cup final, Europa League final, and Champions League final. 

‘We don’t get a licence fee’

0023 Virgin Media_90561997 Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates at the Virgin Media spring press briefing. Source: Leah Farrell

It was 2016 when Malone was poached from RTÉ to take over the director of programming role at the then-TV3. So he’s well placed to comment on business at Virgin Media and its commercial focus compared to State broadcaster RTÉ.  

“We don’t get a licence fee and we do turn a profit,” he pointed out. “And that’s about being strategic about what you invest in, how you invest, and also to drive efficiencies. Put your audience first, strategic investment and drive efficiencies – and that’s what we’re doing.”

But he added: “RTE have a revenue of €1 billion over the last years, and have lost €30m  [over the three years up to 2018] so an increase in the licence fee would be a reward to their inefficiencies. That’s actually not good for the broadcasting industry.”

Back on the topic of his current employer, he said: “It’s clear we have got a very audience-centred approach, which is improve quality with great content that our audiences really love, impact on our audiences.”

Malone said that Virgin Media has been strategically investing in TV3 over the past number of years. The TV3 Group was acquired by UPC Ireland in 2015. The previous year, UPC had become part of Liberty Global’s UK subsidiary, Virgin Media. It was later rebranded to Virgin Media in Ireland. 

Following the acquisition, Virgin Media expanded the network. The three channels under the TV3 brand - TV3, 3e and Be3 - were rebranded to Virgin Media One, Two and Three last year.

Malone said that the focus in recent years has been: “Put the audience first, invest in quality programming, invest in infrastructure and technology. And the result is we’re improving our quality, raising the bar in terms of our quality and attracting more viewers.”

Asked about how they know what audiences gravitate towards, he said: “It’s an amazing industry to work in because every morning I get the ratings so I instantly know how we did last night.”

And I can see in what part of the country, how many people are watching and what demographic, how old, how young, male, female… all that data. And that data, all broadcasters have the same but that data allows you to know what various groups are watching and also the talkability.

By talkability, he means things like the chatter on social media, which is perhaps most obvious in the case of major sports events, and with shows like Love Island and The Tonight Show. One look at the hashtags associated with any of those will instantly show Virgin Media what works for Twitter users – and what most definitely doesn’t.

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