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Virgin Media buys UTV Ireland for €10m

Following earlier reports that cable MSO and content investor Liberty Global was interested in acquiring free-to-air general entertainment channel UTV Ireland, its wholly-owned subsidiary Virgin Media has entered into an agreement with ITV plc to acquire the commercial broadcaster for a purchase price of €10 million. The agreement also includes a comprehensive 10-year output deal for Ireland for ITV produced programming. The purchase price is expected to be funded through existing liquidity.

The proposed transaction follows the successful acquisition of TV3 Group last year and is further testament to the confidence Virgin Media has in the Irish TV programming and production sectors. On completion of the acquisition, UTV Ireland will become part of Virgin Media which will be an essential step to securing the channel’s long term future.

UTV Ireland is a general entertainment free-to-air channel which is available on Virgin Media, eir Vision, Vodafone, Sky and Saorview. It offers compelling content such as Emmerdale and Coronation Street as well as live streaming and catch-up services and its UTV Player is available across a variety of devices.

“We are delighted to welcome UTV Ireland to the Virgin Media family,” declared Tony Hanway, CEO of Virgin Media. “This investment demonstrates our commitment to provide great entertainment for Irish viewers and adds Ireland’s newest TV channel to our existing portfolio which includes TV3 and 3e. This is a very positive development for Irish broadcasting and ensures Virgin Media’s continued investment in top quality programming and local production.”

Pat Kiely, MD of TV3, said the announcement represented an exciting new chapter for the Irish television industry. “Virgin Media’s investment in TV3 has already supported the expansion of our studio facilities and increased production of originated content. 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,” he added.

The acquisition will be subject to competition and regulatory approval from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland as well as a separate media plurality test by the Irish Government. It is expected the transaction will be cleared in the coming months. Until then, ITV remains the owner of UTV Ireland and is committed to maintaining the service during that time.

UTV Ireland was launched in January 2015, prior to ITV’s acquisition of UTV’s television assets earlier this year.
Christy Swords, Director, Broadcast Finance & Operations for ITV, said: “Launching UTV Ireland last year represented a significant achievement by the teams in Dublin and Belfast in challenging circumstances.  ITV took over the business a few months ago and we’ve concluded that bringing TV3 and UTV Ireland together under common ownership offers the best prospect of delivering a strong and sustainable Irish commercial broadcaster, underpinned by a long-term programming agreement with ITV.
“We recognise that this has been an uncertain period for the staff of UTV and UTV Ireland and we have been determined to reach a speedy resolution. We believe that the decision we have made represents an important step forward for the future of the channel.”

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