ITV’s £100m UTV deal faces scrutiny

Fledgling broadcaster UTV Ireland’s news staff in the Dublin Docklands were assured yesterday that their jobs were safe after Britain’s ITV confirmed it will buy all of the UTV Media Group’s television operations, but the £100m (€135.9m) deal still faces regulatory hurdles.

ITV’s £100m UTV deal faces scrutiny

The deal adds to ITV’s already extensive ownership of the once independent regional broadcasters in Britain, and the acquisition of both Belfast and Dublin operations means there will now be no major locally owned commercial broadcasters across Ireland.

The transaction also spells increased competition across light entertainment programming and sports coverage for both RTÉ and TV3, which was only recently bought by Liberty Global — the owner of cable company UPC, which was rebranded as Virgin Media in recent weeks.

One of the unusual issues facing Dublin regulators is that Liberty itself owns almost 10% of ITV— having increased its shareholding as recently as this summer, though it has said it has no intention of launching a bid for ITV.

The transaction becomes the first major media merger to be scrutinised by the new Competition and Consumer Protection Act, which came into force late last year. The act did not affect current media concentrations of ownership in Ireland, but does govern new deals.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will scrutinise the media deal before Communications Minister Alex White’s department considers any issues. The minister can also decide to refer any media deal to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. (BAI)

Yesterday, UTV Ireland staff in Dublin were told in management briefings, including by Michael Wilson, MD of UTV Television, that ITV was interested in expanding and not hollowing out the station.

Most of the 110 staff working at the Dublin station are involved in news and current affairs programmes. Staff believe that the BAI would not allow the new owners to curtail its daily news output, given its current licensing agreement.

Since its launch 10 months ago, UTV Ireland has had a difficult time, with losses associated with the Dublin launch mounting for the Belfast-based UTV Media group.

Under the deal, the radio and online businesses in Britain and Ireland will remain with UTV Media. ITV said it will fund a deficit in the UTV defined benefit pension scheme for the next seven years.

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