Irish competition up with hot new channel

TV3 captures 10% of market share

DUBLIN – RTE, Ireland’s national broadcast company, is getting a run for its money in the television market.

Until recently, RTE controlled the domestic TV scene through its two channels — the flagship RTE1 and the more youth-oriented Network 2. But since its launch in September 1998, TV3, a commercial channel principally funded by Canadian broadcaster CanWest, has captured approximately 10% of the market share, making it the most successful new channel in the Irish market in decades.

The channel focuses on what it calls modern mainstream programming for the 15-to-44 bracket. It produces its own news, sports, entertainment and current affairs shows, and a limited amount of documentary programming.

TV3’s launch has upped the competitiveness for international product.

“When TV3 came on the scene they knew all the majors because of their CanWest connections,” says Dermot Horan, RTE’s head of acquisitions. “They’ve aggressively argued an output deal with Columbia, which prompted us to negotiate our own with Warners.”

TV3 scored its most visible programming coup last year when it won the rights to Champions League Football (the most popular European soccer tournament after the Premiership) away from RTE, a move that RTE’s head of television Cathal Goan acknowledges left them “wrong-footed.”

In what’s widely seen as a retaliatory move, RTE is launching an Irish version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” hosted by popular broadcaster Gay Byrne, directly against Champions League this month.

But from a viewer standpoint, the overall effect of TV3’s emergence has been limited. It’s news is seen to duplicate RTE’s and it has added little to the range of drama and comedy available — most of its programs are available on British channels to which most Irish households have access. However, a TV3 representative says the channel has plans “in the medium term” to start producing its own series.

The reality TV bug has just started to spread in Ireland; though neither RTE nor TV3 are broadcasting such programs yet. Both RTE’s Horan and TV3’s head of acquisitions Matthew Salway say they’ll be actively looking into the purchase of reality programs at Mipcom.

The Irish sales presence in Mipcom will be spearheaded, for the fifth year running, by the indie Network Ireland Television distribs, which represents the libraries of UTV (the ITV franchise company in Northern Ireland) and the Irish-lingo broadcaster TG4, as well as some 40 domestic production companies.

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