UTV on the brink

To highlight the plight of UTV staff when so many face redundancy elsewhere may seem like special pleading but it isn’t. The united joint statement from the Assembly leadership seems like a last ditch appeal against already authorised cuts.

“The regulator (Ofcom) believes UTV should be permitted to cut news output from five hours weekly to four and non-news programming from four hours to just 90 minutes.”

On the face of it, this sounds like UTV opting out of all but top-line news coverage and its proud history of half a century of reflecting the wider, especially the popular culture which it often carried out with considerably more panache than the more lumbering BBC.

It is always possible, although a real loss, to make fewer video reports, to get out and about less, even at a pinch, to do away with studio altogether. But jobs apart, it is now urgently incumbent on the UTV management to say what they mean by the following:

“No one is more committed to high quality regional production for Northern Ireland than UTV.”

The prospect of leaving NI with a virtual local BBC monopoly takes us back to the mid fifties, a disaster in the digital age. And no, FaceBook and YouTube and certainly RTE’s northern-focused output don’t cut it, as a complement to UTV’s deplorable reduction to the scale of a local news station in the US boondocks.

  • Jean Baudrillard

    Brian – have you watched UTV’s output recently?!

    I’d contend that BBC NI has had a monopoly on watchable local TV for quite some time.

    I suspect no one will even notice if its current pathetic output is reduced even further.

  • Happypaddy

    The Best option for UTV would be to team up with TV3 in the ROI they both air nearly the same content from ITV UK and would have a bigger viewership and potential advertising revenue from the whole of Ireland long-term its going to be very hard for UTV to survive in a multi channel world.

  • Fockcom

    Alternatively, OFCOM could tell UTV that if they don’t feel like running a proper regional franchise they can always be bumped off 3 on the dial so that somebody else could have a go.
    That would put manners on them. UTV is a licence to print money. It doesn’t need a licence to do what it likes as well.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    UTV will probably go the same way as Reid Transport in Cloughmills.

  • blinding

    Happypaddy said

    “The Best option for UTV would be to team up with TV3 in the ROI they both air nearly the same content from ITV UK and would have a bigger viewership and potential advertising revenue from the whole of Ireland long-term its going to be very hard for UTV to survive in a multi channel world.”

    That is a good idea or what about some sort of merger with RTE for an Nothern Ireland output.

  • jone

    Mike Wilson of UTV did mention at the Ofcom Public Service Broadcasting conference last year that looking across the border and finding a partner for an all Ireland commercial network was a possible scenario.

    It would definitely have to happen if ITV decided it no longer wanted to be a PSB outfit with all sorts of tiresome regional requirements. Basically ITV plc could simply hand back the licence which allows them to broadcast on terrestrial and move their whole operation onto the digital platform on which they already have ITVs 2, 3 and 4.

    That would leave UTV without an ITV schedule (with its Corrie and Emmerdale) into which it could insert UTV Live, Insight, Lesser Spotted Ulster etc. If it didn’t find a new partner it would have to move to an obscure digital channel, broadcast for about 2 hours a day and go out of business after a month.

    In some way’s that flags up what a piece of piss it was to make big money from the UTV franchise; basically put on Corrie and Emmerdale at very little cost and charge advertisers whatever you like for the massive audiences, meanwhile spend buttons on the local content.

  • willis

    From the Irish Times link:

    “Michael Wilson, managing director of UTV, said its commitment to news and current affairs remained undiminished despite the threat to the popular UTV Life programme and the in-depth Insight team. “No one is more committed to high quality regional production for Northern Ireland than UTV,” he said. “We have a proven track record in this area.

    “We are in the process of consulting with our staff, regulator and elected representatives on our programming proposals which guarantee first-class news and current affairs coverage, as well as a wide and diverse portfolio of regional programmes for our audience going forward, as we do now.

    “We have always over-produced our production quota and it is most likely we will continue to over-deliver the types of programmes our audience most want.”

    Does anyone believe this nonsense?

    OFCOM should hang their heads in shame. In a couple of years we will look back and see that they were even worse than the so-called financial regulators who stood by and allowed the Bernie Madoff scheme.

    BTW

    How is it that UTV can be financially solid in OFCOM reports and at death’s door when they need to sack staff?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]How is it that UTV can be financially solid in OFCOM reports and at death’s door when they need to sack staff?”[/i]

    Usually the fat-cat at the top tells OFCOM to pull the plug as his personal profits are diminising. Meanwhile the staff and sub-contractors are lead to believe everything is on the up.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    ….or would it be more correct to say:

    The fat-cat at the top has drained so much money from the business into his own pocket that the company is accumulating a debt and the only way to cut their losses is to cut staff. Aye, that sounds more like it.

  • jone

    In UTV’s defence they have shareholders to answer to and the commercial TV market is in the middle of a whole series of changes which makes it less profitable than it once was (hence UTV’s diversification into radio) furthermore as Wilson admitted at the Ofcom conference while Insight could attract decent audiences that didn’t necessarily attract decent revenue ie. it wasn’t a very attractive advertising vehicle.

    As it stands Insight has been gutted; Wilson bollocked them not long ago for not producing enough ‘high impact journalism’ but that’s hardly surprising when it has such meagre resources and tight turnaround times. Ofcom and the MLAs should be insisting that investment in a half decent current affairs programme is the price for cutting UTV Life and Late and Live.

    Also while they are looking to ditch some of their senior (hence expensive) on screen talent, they are hiring cheaper ‘multi media journalists’ ie. reporters who can shoot and edit their own stuff – that doesn’t necessarily mean a dilution in quality as quite a few of the telly hacks at the beeb can be seen out shooting their own stuff.

  • borderline

    The problem.

    NI not big news any more, a comparatively small UK region, a poor economy, an increasingly Bolshie taig population wondering why they get wall2wall Britdom, and a unionist hack trying to hang on to the good old days – subtly insulting the South by categorizing their national TV and radio broadcaster with some global websites who don’t know or care where NI is.

    The solution.

    “And no, FaceBook and YouTube and certainly RTE’s northern-focused output don’t cut it”

  • jone

    But borderline surely it’s a fair point that RTE’s (highly professional) operation just can’t give the same coverage to the NI polity as local NI broadcasters for the simple reason that the bulk of their southern audience would quite rightly find such coverage irrelevant?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    “[i]In UTV’s defence they have shareholders to answer to and the commercial TV market is in the middle of a whole series of changes which makes it less profitable than it once”[/i]

    but UTV has recently bought into many different ventures which are directly linked with media in one way or the other, so shareholders will not be worried about a few staff getting paid off as long as the new ventures are bringing in the money. How these new ventures bring in their money may be why people are becoming unemployed. It may well be that the new ventures are charging inflated prices to the area which is under threat, then again the new ventures may be totally independent. We don’t really know though.

  • jone

    UMH, the reality of a public company is that at every board meeting the Financial Director will be asking a basic question: ‘Are there any new ways in which we can increase revenues or reduce costs?’

    If there’s a way to take costs out of the business the directors have a duty to the shareholders to do so.

  • RepublicanStones

    So long as Pamela Ballentine, Lynda Bryans and Tina Campbell still grace our screens I won’t mind.

    Tell me Im not the only one………….hello?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Lynda Bryans is getting more like May McFetridge by the day, Tina Campbell’s getting rough round the edges and Pamela Ballentine would drive ye mad.

  • james

    Can’t say i’d miss Neil ‘londonDerry’ Brittain who was better than the Ibrox board in trying to excuse the Rangers riots last year in Manchester.

    Even better this evening when he did a piece on ‘london’Derry’s Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson. He was in ‘london’Derry to talk to Gibson’s father, after his goal for Man United last weekend. Neil forget to ask his proud dad about the burgening international career of the ‘london’Derry kid.

  • willis

    Jone

    “UMH, the reality of a public company is that at every board meeting the Financial Director will be asking a basic question: ‘Are there any new ways in which we can increase revenues or reduce costs?’

    If there’s a way to take costs out of the business the directors have a duty to the shareholders to do so.”

    Hire cheaper executives perhaps?

  • borderline

    jone,

    i agree NI is a turnoff for most ROI viewers and an all-Ireland service wouldn’t work. There are 2 govts, 2 legal systems, 2 currencies etc.

    No need for insults though.

  • john

    UTV will dump on all it’s staff, they have even broken the journalistic code of not handing over material to the police without a court order. they handed over the programme made by insight, Trevor Birney in 2001 ( MoD got an injunction ) to police Ombudsman’s investigators, the NUJ are not happy.

  • Leave Lynda Alone!

    Lynda Bryans has aged well.