US billionaire John Malone’s Virgin Media — which owns TV3 and the cable operator — has confirmed plans to acquire UTV Ireland from ITV, in a €10m deal which will raise fears for jobs at both broadcasters.

The deal also means that RTÉ will face tougher competition during peak times.

Its new director general, Dee Forbes, started work at Donnybrook yesterday.

However, the acquisition also raises a headache for TV3’s schedules because it will own the Republic of Ireland rights to popular ITV soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale — currently screened on UTV Ireland — which will now compete for viewers and advertising with TV3’s own home-produced and ratings-winner soap, Red Rock.

As part of the deal, ITV has committed to a “comprehensive 10-year output deal for Ireland”.

“The proposed acquisition of UTV Ireland will ensure further investment in the independent Irish television sector as we continue to compete head-on against significant local and international competition,” said Pat Kiely, TV3’s managing director.

A spokeswoman for TV3 said, pending regulatory approval, it was too early to answer questions about jobs, schedules, any potential rebranding of UTV Ireland, and the future of UTV Ireland’s Dublin docklands studios.

“I think there will also be a lot of opportunities,” she said.

Mr Malone’s Virgin Media unit acquired TV3, based in Ballymount, south-west Dublin, in a deal worth €87m last year, while ITV acquired the fledgling UTV Ireland when it paid the Belfast parent company €135m for its TV assets, in a deal unveiled last October.

UTV Ireland has struggled to make money despite snatching the rights to broadcast Coronation Street from TV3 ahead of its launch 18 months ago.

Mr Malone’s US holding giant, Liberty Global, which is valued at $27.5bn, has long been expanding its reach across Europe, snapping up television production firms as it positions itself to produce media content.

Liberty Global had also increased its stake to 9.9% in ITV over a year ago, raising speculation of a mega-buyout of ITV.

UTV’s former radio stations in the UK and Ireland were sold to News Corp in a £220m deal announced last month.


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