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Friday 24 February 2017

Fears for 61 jobs at UTV Ireland as TV3 says station will 'cease to exist'

MasterChef contestant Nadia Forde and Emmerdale’s Gemma Atkinson at the TV3 launch
MasterChef contestant Nadia Forde and Emmerdale’s Gemma Atkinson at the TV3 launch

The future of up to 61 staff at UTV Ireland, including chief anchor Alison Comyn, is in doubt after news emerged of its winding-down on January 8.

The channel will be replaced by be3 as part of a shake up of the TV3 group.

The group said last week that redundancies may be "unavoidable" after the station was acquired by Virgin Media in a €10m deal.

Now speculation is mounting over whether key UTV Ireland staff will have a part to play in the revamped group amid a raft of changes, which come into effect on January 9.

Its existing operation in Macken House in Dublin city centre will close down shortly, while yesterday was the deadline for staff to apply for the new positions.

When contacted about her future plans, Alison declined to comment.

TV3 yesterday launched its new-look three channel group strategy at a special event at The Cliff Townhouse on St. Stephen's Green.

Director of Programming Bill Malone said he needed to be "very mindful and respectful" when asked what was in store for UTV Ireland staff as 30-day-long negotiations started on December 5.

"The consultation process is currently underway so I need to be careful. There are 61 permanent employees at UTV Ireland and, at the moment, we've posted 40 positions," he said.

"UTV Ireland will cease to exist on January 8 and, on January 9, be3 opens up. But it's not swapping one channel for the other, it's a group."

Asked if he believed that UTV Ireland staff had the skillset to fill the new openings, he said: "I don't know. I know there are significant opportunities as part of our growth."

He said that a number of key shows like The Pulse are "under review" and a decision will be made in due course.

There is also plenty of conjecture surrounding flagship shows like Ireland AM, Xpose, Midday or the Six O'Clock Show and their place on the new schedule. Some of them may be moved over to 3e or be3.

Among the flagship shows confirmed for next year are Red Rock, Gogglebox Ireland, The Restaurant and Celebrity Masterchef.

The new be3 channel will be "female orientated" with a mixture of drama, children's slot 3Kids and news, plus repeats of Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

The revamped 3e will feature a mix of international acquisitions and Irish content as it starts commissioning new home-produced programmes.

Mr Malone said 3e will form its core entertainment hub.

Incongruous

"3e is the place where you can have fun. It's for 15 to 44-year-olds, it's entertainment-centred," he said.

"If you look at something like Big Brother, that would exist on TV3 and then it [the schedule] would go into [Tonight with] Vincent Browne. It was an incongruous relationship, it didn't work."

3e will feature shows like Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity and the X Factor, while TV3 will continue as the flagship station.

The group will also create a new service, 3News Ireland, providing current affairs content to all three stations, including a dedicated weekend news service.

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