herald

Saturday 1 October 2016

Merger possible as TV3 parent company eyes up UTV Ireland

Liberty Global’s John Malone. Photo: Bloomberg
Liberty Global’s John Malone. Photo: Bloomberg

Tv3's parent company Liberty Global is weighing up a takeover move for UTV Ireland, according to multiple reports.

A deal would raise the prospect of the two Irish television stations being merged, and expand the reach of US cable and telecoms billionaire John Malone in this country.

A spokesperson for Virgin Media Ireland - a subsidiary of Liberty Global - told the Herald that Liberty Global would "always consider strategic business opportunities in markets where it operates", but would not comment further. UTV Ireland declined to comment.

A takeover would put UTV Ireland into the hands of a third different owner in its broadcasting lifetime, which is just over 18 months.

The station was sold by its original owner UTV Media (later to become Wireless Group) to UK broadcaster ITV in February, after a series of warnings that it was going to lose more money than expected, with audience numbers slow to build momentum.

The station had most success in prime-time evening slots with the likes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

Newsreader Alison Comyn has previously defended the station against its critics, saying figures weren't everything.

Viewing

"The fact is that there has been great press as well. I have had amazing press. Personally, I have never had any bad press, thankfully. Every now and again people throw in figures, but viewing figures are not what makes us," she said last year.

"We are producing some absolutely amazing news programmes, personally. The rest of the channel is growing and growing and we are hoping we will be able to build on that."

"We are a nation where it takes a while to get to know something. If anyone thought we were going to come in to a market and take all the viewers from TV3 and 90pc from RTE, that was never going to happen. We are our own brand. We are creating our own identity."

When the sale of UTV Ireland to ITV was announced last October, ITV said that it would strengthen the station "with high-quality ITV programming at its core".

Another sale would represent a further shake-up of Irish broadcasting, days after it emerged that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation agreed terms to buy a number of prominent Irish radio stations - including Dublin's FM104 and Cork's 98FM - via a £220m (€262m) takeover of UTV Ireland's ex-parent Wireless Group.

If approved by shareholders the move would be likely to intensify competition for independent broadcasters, with News Corporation able to leverage its massive worldwide presence.

Wireless Group also owns UK sports radio station TalkSport, Q102 in Dublin, and LMFM, which operates in Louth and Meath.

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