Wednesday 23 January 2019

thinking outside the box for future of television

DRIVEN: TV3 boss Jeff Ford chats to Laura Butler about his plans to safeguard the station with home programmes

Jeff Forde TV3
Jeff Forde TV3

HE'S battled through the recession and now the threat from incoming station UTV - TV3's fighting General Jeff Ford is certainly a man on a mission.

The Irish television industry is an intimate arena.

Rival coverage is often picked over by critics comparing or contrasting ratings success or otherwise - the recent reviews of both RTE and TV3 of the Garth Brooks concert debacle springs to mind.

'Ratings battles' are par for the course, but with the imminent arrival of UTV Ireland, the entire sector is upping its game.

For father-of-two Ford (55), that involves filling gaps in a previously full schedule with entertaining, news worthy programming.

While they have clung on to The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Downton Abbey, TV3 is losing long-running soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale to the new station.

From January next year, the Ballymount outfit also no longer has exclusive rights to Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross, Ant 'n' Dec and The Cube.


So the acceleration of in-house innovation has been very much on the agenda for TV3.

"Cutting our teeth," is the phrase Mr Ford uses during our meeting as he talks of steering the ship out of choppy waters.

When he arrives for our interview, he is all English politeness, gushing apologies about the tea stain on his otherwise pristine white shirt.

Ford succeeded pet-loving Ben Frow as Director of Content at the commercial broadcaster 18 months ago and since then has embarked on his survival strategy.

More than ever before, TV3 is airing home-produced programmes or directly commissioned by Ford himself with a strong TV3 influence from the outset.

They have "turned a corner" now in his mind.

"We've come through it all with flying colours and the next stage now is evolution because next year we've got 50pc home-produced content, which has been going up since 2007," he said.

"Since I've been here my direction and focus has been pushing that on even more. With the ITV programming moving away, it has meant we could really concentrate on that goal."

Looking towards new entertainment slots - helmed by the likes of comedian Jason Byrne, Amanda Brunker and Ray Foley - as well as rolling out an Irish version of Blind Date fronted by Lucy Kennedy, Ford feels there is plenty on offer to keep viewers tuning in.

"All you can do is prepare yourself for the best and we've done that. We're not putting all our eggs in one basket, because if things don't work as well as you wish, or take slightly longer to work out the way you want, that's not good.

"There are a number of genres where we're putting our money - seven to be precise - and it's all funding we used to be getting overseas and is now coming straight back into TV3.

"From a personal point of view that's very exciting. We've used the arrival of UTV as an opportunity and taken all the money we used to spend there and put it into the Irish economy."

And there's potential financial benefits to TV3 by selling successful shows and formats.

Illusionist Keith Barry's Brain Hacker has already been sold abroad, while there's more interest in quiz show The Lie.

It's no surprise that there are three brand spanking new quiz shows in the latest autumn line-up.

"The big thing that sells is the bright, sparkly, and travels well entertainment stuff like quiz shows," Ford says.

"We're pleased The Lie has done very well and Sitting On A Fortune is another that distributors in the UK love, because its host Brian Dowling is big there, so it's positive."

Ford also has high hopes for new week night soap drama Red Rock, set at a fictional Dublin Garda station,


Casting is well underway, with faces like Game Of Thrones actress Jane McGrath leading the charge.

"It's by far our biggest commission, so you don't look at it as a short haul option," Ford says.

"It's a huge commitment for the station. There's an awful lot of money behind it and obviously we want it to be a hit."

Without RTE's advantage of the licence fee, I imagine it can be frustrating when assessing budgets and I put that to him.

"You have to be more creative, for sure and smarter about how you spend," he says.

On the other hand though, there must be satisfaction in seeing so many RTE presenters defect?

"It's a nice feeling," he admits.

Life certainly seems busy.

With no children at home - his daughters work at Disney and at a beauty salon in their native UK - his off-duty time is spent polishing up his 1966 two-seater Triumph Herald and looking after the new addition to the Dalkey household, a rescue dog.

Having clearly settled well into Irish life, has he put a time limit on his time at TV3?

No, he sees it as a long-term fixture and I get the distinct impression that he plans to see this strategy through to the bitter end.

Was does he thrive on?

"It has to be initial meetings with people and seeing sparks of creativity. It's wonderful to be able to let people go off and blossom, because there is freedom now that we didn't have before."

He has been involved in TV since an 18-year-old, having previously worked at Britain's Channel 5.

And while it's "not just a box in the corner now", it's plain to see this individual finds every part of the TV process thrilling.


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