Television in Ireland has always been compared, fairly or otherwise, with its British equivalent. In many cases the comparison can be unfair however when Irish viewers miss out on services and programming that is becoming a standard in the UK you can’t help but feel like more could be done.
As it stands the face of Irish television is in the middle of a major change. DTT is on its way, at least in trial form, and if the Broadcasting Act 2001 is followed through TG4 will become an independent broadcaster on a par with TV3, Setanta and Channel 6. The BCI will also end and be replaced by the BAI (Broadcasting Association of Ireland), this change will level the playing field and see RTÉ answerable to the same group as every other Irish broadcaster.
In the business side of things TV3 will change hands within the coming weeks and months, if not to Doughty Hanson than to ITV. If Hanson does take control the future of TV3 will be extremely uncertain; private equity groups generally buy businesses in order to turn a profit in its eventual sale and the end of a relationship with ITV will cast doubt on the renewal of the programming deal currently established between the two. One has to wonder also if a private equity group, especially one from outside of Ireland, is likely to put much investment into original homegrown entertainment although that’s not to pretend that TV3 has done any more than it has had to do so far. Another issue that is sure to cast some uncertainty on TV3′s future is the broadcasting contract renewal due for 2008, where homegrown output is sure to be an issue.
In the delivery-side of Irish television, NTL/Chorus have recently appointed a single managing director, coming on the back of offical clearance at the sale of NTL to International company UPC. While nothing is set in stone as of yet, a rebrand is quite likely but whatever the name the company goes on it has lost a lot of ground during the last two years. PVR and HD are both digital TV concepts that NTL/Chorus has made no commitment on whatsoever, forcing any viewers interested to make the switch to Sky. The only decent deal done by NTL over the last 12 months has been the subscription-free availability of Setanta, something that will pay dividends assuming they station gets a decent share of the Irish TV rights for British Premiership soccer.
On the issue of Setanta, and indeed Channel 6, both are new players in the Irish market and their future is more uncertain than anyone elses, however Setanta have ensured a strong footing with two packages in the UK and it is expected to pull of the same or better in Ireland.
By the end of this decade Irish television will have seen a massive change. DTT should be up and running, TV3 is likely have changed hands again (if Doughty Hanson do buy them my bet is that they will sell them on after 2008 when they have a long broadcasting contract to increase value), TG4 and RTÉ should be split the BCI is expected to be no more and NTL/Chorus/UPC will have either gotten its act together or crashed out of the Irish TV market altogether. Of course, all this change is not certain to be positive, all broadcasters and carriers should be acting now to ensure that they future-proof themselves and are ready to change methods to stay competitive. Television is unlikely to see the same scale of changes once Digital switchover is complete and HD and PVR reaches the mainstream but that doesn’t mean that anyone should sit back and relax; most Irish broadcasters have done that already and are now left scrambling to stay in the running.