The development has surprised the media industry and will put particular pressure on TV3 as UTV has secured exclusive rights to broadcast popular ITV programmes like Coronation Street and Emmerdale in Ireland once the station goes on air.
The two soaps are among a range of ITV series which are currently shown on TV3 and regularly attract high audience figures.
UTV said the channel, UTV Ireland (to be known on air as just UTV) will create 100 jobs, of which around 70 will be in the Republic.
The Belfast-based media company employs around 600 on both sides of the border including 300 in the Republic where it owns six radio stations — FM104 and Q102 in Dublin, Limerick Live 95FM, 96FM and C103 in Cork, and LMFM in the North-East — as well as digital agency Simply Zesty. It also owns TalkSport commercial radio as well as 13 independent radio stations in Britain.
UTV, which was Ireland’s first commercial TV station when it went on air in 1959, yesterday applied to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for a content provision contract but stated that the new channel would be separate from UTV which broadcasts in the North.
UTV group chief executive John McCann said the launch was in response to strong demand from TV viewers in the Republic for popular entertainment shows and quality drama series produced by ITV.
Mr McCann said the channel, as well as an on-demand service, would offer national news and current affairs programming with a strong cultural identity and in-depth regional coverage.
Among the main features will be an hour-long evening news programme modelled on UTV’s Live Tonight, to be broadcast at peak viewing time.
The station will have reporters in Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford, and is expected to seek new headquarters in Dublin.
Mr McCann said the decision to set up the channel represented a multimillion-euro investment for UTV.
“It represents a strong vote of confidence in Irish broadcasting and our investment in the Irish economy,” said Mr McCann, who expressed optimism about future advertising revenue.
The UTV boss said he expected the channel would break even in its first full year of operation and move into profit from 2016.
UTV Television’s managing director Michael Wilson said the company aimed to build on the 10% daily reach that the station had with TV audiences in the Republic.
UTV is received in 78% of homes and is not available on some platforms including Sky and Eircom’s eVision. It is broadcast on the UPC platform. However, Mr Wilson said it was UTV’s intention to make the new channel available on as many platforms as possible, including Saorview. “We will go head-to-head with RTÉ and TV3,” said Mr Wilson.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte expressed surprise at the news but welcomed it as a positive development that would provide competition for other stations.
TV3 chief executive David McRedmond played down the potential impact on the station of the loss of popular shows like Coronation Street to the new rival.
Mr McRedmond said such programmes, which were becoming unaffordable due to rising rights costs, now accounted for less than 20% of its viewership. He claimed their loss would also free up resources to invest in more home-produced programming.
An RTÉ spokesperson said UTV’s new channel potentially represented “a significant development in the Irish media market”.