UTV Ireland ups loss estimate for third time

Fledgling station UTV Ireland has increased its estimates for losses for a third time in less than a year, and now predicts it will post losses of £11.5m (€16.2m) in 2015 — its maiden year of operation.

UTV Ireland ups loss estimate for third time

It means the date UTV Ireland will start turning a profit could be delayed further.

Shares in UTV Media — the Belfast-based TV and radio operator — slumped by over 8% to €2. The shares have slid by almost 15% since it launched the station at the start of the year.

UTV also advised that it had increased its lending covenants with its lenders.

Before the launch, UTV Media had predicted the new station would lose €3m in its first year. In March, it increased that estimate to a loss of €6m, and earlier this month warned the loss had increased again, to €8.5m.

Yesterday, it said that estimate had escalated again, to a loss of €11.5m.

UTV Media had gambled that it would poach a significant slice of the Republic’s advertising television market in its first year by screening ITV big shows, including Coronation Street and Ant and Dec, against TV3.

However, analysts said that the station has suffered from what the station calls its “Ant and Dec problem”.

UTV Ireland has the rights to new episodes of Ant and Dec, but TV3 still has the rights to older, pre-2015 episodes, said Robert Stokes, analyst at Davy Stockbrokers.

“This has confused viewers, and impacted audience numbers. The same problem is occurring with a number of other ITV shows, including The Jeremy Kyle Show and The Cube where TV3 can still repeat the old shows and take market share,” he said.

Mr Stokes had forecast UTV Ireland would start making money in 2018. Yesterday, he said he would be “reviewing his numbers” in light of the latest trading statement.

In that update UTV said that audience growth evident in the first quarter of the year “stalled” in the past month, with viewership levels remaining “volatile”.

“Overall share of commercial impacts is, therefore, around 11%, which is lower than the target set for the channel’s first year of operation,” it said.

However, UTV Media said its week-day peak time audience figures are almost 40% greater than those for rivals RTÉ2 and TV3, but that its weekend viewing numbers remain “disappointing”.

Nonetheless, the group’s board said its strategic objective for UTV Ireland to be the second most popular channel in the Republic, behind RTÉ1, by 2017 remains unchanged. It said the channel would still create long-term strategic value for shareholders.

UTV Media’s management yesterday approved an “action plan” to address UTV Ireland’s audience shortfall, but said this will take time to deliver the required improvement in numbers.

“The board is, therefore, assuming no significant improvement in overall audience levels for the second half of the year and is, therefore, revising its guidance for the full-year and now expects UTV Ireland to incur losses of £11.5m in 2015,” the group said yesterday.

It added: “It is clear that the channel will take longer than originally anticipated to become profitable.”

Meanwhile, UPC owner Liberty Global is understood to be carrying out due diligence of TV3. TV3 could be valued in excess of €100m, according to sources.

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