7 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Minister plans to restrict pay-per-view sports
03 Jul 1998 :

The Minister for Arts, Sile deValera is place legislation before the Dail to restrict pay-per-view sporting events. The legislation will prevent restricted access to top sporting events such as GAA finals and important soccer matches. The main aim of the legislation is to prevent multinational broadcasters (lets be honest Rubert Murdock's BskyB) from buying up the rights to sporting fixtures and then offering them as pay-per-view events.

This is the first shot by the government to protect terrestrial broadcasters from the threatening shadow of BskyB who have already made soundings about entering the Irish advertising market. This would cause enormous headaches for RTE which is already set to lose revenue to the TV3 which will be launched on Monday, September 24th and is also extremely worried about BskyB's plans in such a small market, UTV is also defending its market share. The Minister appears to be lining up with Chris Smith the British Arts Minister in relation to making BskyB toe the line on the European 'Television without Frontiers' directive. Although no EU member state has implemented the directive there is a growing awareness particularly in relation to BskyB that this may be the only way to exercise some control over the broadcast giant on a European basis and any forth coming legislation will probably give effect to that legislation.

In relation to the increasingly heated TV market in Ireland due to TV3's arrival if legislation is introduced it will also stop TV3 from outbidding RTE for the exclusive rights to certain events and comes after TV3 has obtained sole rights to show Republic of Ireland away matches during Euro 2000 soccer championship which was a major coup for the independent station. TV3 has firmly set its sites on the high spending 15 to 44 year olds, around half the TV viewing audience. TV3 has relied on AC Neilson figures arguing that RTE 1 is increasingly attracting an older viewers with over 50% of its audience in the over 45 bracket and Network 2 at the opposite end with close to 60% of its audience under 34. So TV3 is attacking the open middle ground.

TV3 aims to attract 6 per cent of the audience which it believes will translate into 18 per cent of total advertising revenue (Total estimated to be 100 million, RTE has 30% of audience with 80% of revenue). Its start up investment is thought to be around 20 m and the station expects to return profits within three years (this of course could all fall to pieces if BskyB gets in on the market). TV3 will invest in Irish News but will buy in most of the rest of its programmes from home (15% initially rising to 25% after 5 years) and abroad(75%). TV3 will keep its cost base tight, operating from a modern building in Tallaght with about 160 staff.

TV3 will be received by 85 per cent of homes when it is broadcast initially, with broadcast time rising to 99 hours per week over a period of time. News will account for 14 hours and there will be four domestically produced series commissioned from independent producers, one current affairs, one music and two light entertainment programmes. There will be eight hours per week of prime-time movies and series such as Eastenders and The professionals with a nightly half hour sports news at 11.30 p.m. Children's programmes aimed at the pre-teens (8-14) will be important for the station firstly for a distinctive market, secondly because it is important for advertising and thirdly (most importantly) it will be able to draw upon programmes produced by CanWest, which owns 45% of the station, for its Canadian network or bought from other producers.

Meanwhile RTE is still going through the difficult transition from being a product based monopoly national broadcaster into a leaner more market focused organisation. An internal report compiled by Eugene Murray concludes that RTE management pays too little attention to business issues and that the changes in broadcasting including the increased competition from TV3 means RTE's cost base is unsustainable and indicates that the station could run up a loss 20 million with in three years. Not only will RTE face competition from TV3, it will have to give 20% of its programme budget to the independent sector from next year. There is still no sign of the index-linked licence fee promised when the broadcasting act was introduced in 1993. The station is faced with finding over 300 redundancies to cut cost.

The saga of the shifting Irish broadcast market is set to continue into the near future, all it will take now to completely throw the area up in the air is a declaration of intent by BskyB something a lot of people are holding their breath and hoping will not happen. All Mr Murdock is interested in is the bottom line. To give an example during a recent row in Germany where Murdoch flagged plans to expand into the competitive German market. He was keen to increase his stake in the Vox channel from 49% and develop a real competitor to the four leading private channels. However other investors stated they had no intention of selling their stake to Murdoch. His response was Vox had "great potential and if we cannot use it we'll just buy another station. Either they take over our share or we take over theirs", and when it comes to Ireland if he can see an edge in what is essentially a small market you can be sure he will take it and to hell with the begrudgers.(and taste, and decent programming, and fair comment, and independent producers, and national news, and impartiality, etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum). Watch this space.

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