Friday 24 May 2019

Dire UTV Ireland could learn a thing or two from Spike

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in 'Breaking Bad'

IRELAND has got a brand new television station for the second time this year.

Spike, a Channel 5-owned, UK-based version of the American cable channel of the same name, began broadcasting free-to-air yesterday in the space on your EPG (electronic program guide) that used to be occupied by Viva.

On the face of it, a channel offering something called Lip Sync Battle, in which American celebrities engage in a mime-offs, might not seem the most promising of prospects. But when you consider that the celebs on last night’s first show were wrestler-turned-movie star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and chat show host Jimmy Fallon, it’s clear we’re not talking about the sort of D-listers you might find on an equivalent ITV show.

It just happens that Lip Sync Battle turns out to be good, silly, infectious fun that could very well pick up a healthy cult following among the audience.

But Spike has something of a clever ace up its sleeve. It’s showing all five seasons of Breaking Bad back to back, with an episode every weeknight.

This is good news for people who don’t wish, or maybe can’t afford, to shell out for a Netflix subscription, as well as those who might have missed out on Breaking Bad when it was shown on TG4 — and given that laudable channel’s still tiny audience share, this potentially adds up to an awful lot of viewers.

Spike also plans from-the-beginning reruns of the likes of Justified (another superb series that slipped under the radar on TG4), Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead, while first-run series will include Transporter, the small-screen spin-off of the action movie franchise, and the fantasy drama Olympus, which began last night.

Let’s keep things in perspective here: Spike is not going to mop up viewers by the hundreds of thousands. There are only so many episodes of filler material like Cops, Police Interceptors and Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away any sane person can stomach in a single afternoon. But given the way TV-watching habits have fragmented, it’s sure to find some kind of regular audience.

The question now is, will it fare better than that other recent addition to the schedules, the beleaguered UTV Ireland? I was tempted to say “poor, beleaguered UTV Ireland”, except the people really impoverished by the Northern Irish outfit’s entry into the Irish market are those viewers who can no longer receive “old” UTV, because their satellite provider doesn’t have the facility to add individual channels manually.

I won’t bore you (or me) with too many figures, but everyone knows by now that UTV Ireland’s first three months on air have been a financial and ratings disaster. Projected losses are twice what the number crunchers forecast, while Emmerdale and Coronation Street are the only programmes picking up an audience. Once the soaps are finished, nobody is watching.

The blunt truth is that people are angry — and who can blame them when they’ve had a service they’ve enjoyed for decades yanked from them and replaced with a grossly inferior product? On Monday night, when viewers of regular UTV were watching the conclusion of gripping real-life thriller Code of a Killer, UTV Ireland’s unfortunates were stuck with an old episode of the wretched Doc Martin.

The fact that UTV Ireland jumped feet first into the market believing Irish licence payers could be fobbed off with this tripe simply screams arrogance. It also suggests they were so blinded by potential advertising revenue that they didn’t do their basic homework.

The people behind Spike, on the other hand, clearly did. They obviously know the difference between offering old programmes — and offering old programmes people might actually want to watch.

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