State broadcaster pours cold water on rival’s proposal
By Adam Shaw
The head of the Irish broadcaster TV3 has called on its State-owned, TV license-funded, rival RTÉ to join with it in creating a joint overseas channel for the diaspora. But RTÉ has dismissed the overture as speculative and premature.
Pat Kiely, who became managing director of TV3 Group in January of this year, said the prospect of combining the best of both broadcasters would undoubtedly prove popular with such an audience.
Speaking at the Mediacon conference in Dublin, he said: “Can you imagine a channel that has Red Rock and Fair City? That has Six One and Vincent Browne?”
He added that it would be “problematic” for one broadcaster to attempt to go it alone and that a partnership would be the best way forward. Both channels rely heavily on imported programmes for which they would not have the rights to broadcast in a market like the UK and as a result one channel going it alone would have several gaps in its schedule.
Two stations would be able to overcome this, he said. RTÉ executives have previously spoken about forming broadcasting relationships if the right opportunity comes along, though they have not made specific reference to a diaspora channel.
Dee Forbes, recently-appointed director general at RTÉ, told the conference that she would be happy to work closely with so-called “frenemies” if it were to benefit all parties. This, however, was made as a general industry comment, as she accepts that there are some things RTÉ would like to accomplish which it can’t do on its own.
“What is now, can’t be for the future. The business is changing around us, the models are changing, and we have to change with that.
“The phrase frenemies is well used in our industry, because we may well compete, but it may well make sense for us to come together on some things, and I am certainly very open to that,” she said. “More and more as the world around us is diversifying and fragmenting, we need to have a wide outward vision. And also, I think it is not prudent any more for any broadcaster to go it alone on everything.”
RTÉ agreed to sub-license the rights to Euro 2016 with TV3 over the summer, though this is something which happened almost by default rather than design. Making joint bids for sports rights in the future, in addition to the establishment of co-productions, is something Ms Forbes will consider, but the prospect of a specific project aimed at the diaspora is seemingly off the table at present.
Acting managing director of RTÉ, Dermot Horan, echoed Ms Forbes’ suggestions and agreed that it would not be feasible for one single broadcaster to commit o the idea of a channel for the Irish abroad. Both TV3 and RTÉ can’t simply replicate their domestic channels in an overseas market because they do not hold the international rights to the programming they import. Therefore, Mr Kiely said that if a broadcaster tried to tackle the diaspora venture alone, there would be numerous “black pockets” in the schedule.
RTÉ has flirted with the idea of such a channel in the past and, in its “finance-dependent” five-year strategy for 2012-2017, proposed a linear channel for the Irish in the UK entitled RTÉ Ireland. It would also have to consider the position of RTÉ Player International, which, although not a diaspora-specific application, provides viewers from all around the world with access to its programmes.
Since 2015, TV3 has been owned by Virgin Media Ireland, which is in turn part of the cable and broadband giant Liberty Global. Liberty has a wide-reaching influence with operations in 30 countries and counts0 Irish-American billionaire John Malone as its chairman and largest shareholder. Meanwhile, the multi-millionaire investor and partowner of Mayo-based Irish TV, John Griffin, has complained about the channel being required to put up a €3 million bond to be broadcast on Ireland’s answer to Freeview, Saorview.
“It denies us a level playing field and denies us a competitive edge. I put £15 million of my own money into Irish TV so that’s a fairly loud gesture (of confidence) as far as I’m concerned,” said Mr Griffin who sold his stake in the Addison Lee car hire company for £300m before investing in Irish TV and a £1 billion property venture in the City of London.