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Beleaguered RTE loses top-rated soap

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — In a major blow to RTE, Britain’s Granada Media company has taken a 45 percent stake in the independent commercial channel TV3, a move that will mean the loss of the ratings-topping "Coronation Street" soap serial for the beleaguered state broadcaster.

TV3, which was launched in September 1998, has built up an audience of 9.5 percent and non-executive chairman James Morris said it hopes to build up the station to be the premier channel.

"This is a great step forward for us," said Morris, who has been the driving force behind TV3 for a decade.

RTE’s main TV channel has 28 percent of viewers, with Network 2 having 17 percent and the Irish language channel, TG4, down at 2 percent.

All the home stations face strong challenges from UK and satellite companies that are widely available on cable networks or via dish ‘rials.

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The switch of "Coronation Street" to TV3 for four days a week beginning next January will hit RTE’s prime-time audience. It is Ireland’s most-watched program.

RTE will also lose the "Emmerdale" soap and TV3 will get first refusal for other popular Granada dramas such as "Heartbeat" and "London’s Burning."

The Manchester-based Granada headed by Irishman Gerry Robinson, makes nearly 6,000 hours of TV programs, feature films and TV movies a year.

It is responsible for about 47 percent of Britain’s ITV Network’s original programs, including 79 percent of its top-rated shows.

Granada also co-produced Irish films like the double-Oscar winning "My Left Foot" and the Oscar-nominated "The Field."

Granada and Canada’s CanWest Global Communications, which holds a further 45 percent of TV3, will form a new joint venture company to hold their combined stake.

Joining them will be the original Irish promoters of the station, Morris, Windmill Lane Pictures, show-business accountant, Ossie Kilkenny, and U2’s manager, Paul McGuinness, who will hold the other 10 percent.

CanWest, Canada’s most profitable private-sector broadcaster, joined the TV3 consortium a year before it launched after the Belfast-based ITV franchise, UTV, caused a crisis when they pulled out as the major partner.

CanWest already has overseas operations in New Zealand and Australia and broadcasts to more than 36 million people throughout the English-speaking world.

As RTE is struggling with its ballooning budget and facing major new expense with the arrival of digital TV, it now faces a formidable adversary with huge resources and access to wide range of programs.

RTE is already facing strong competition from independent radio stations and last week said it expected to lose £12 million this year with loses to continue in 2001. It had an operating deficit of £16.6 million last year.

RTE is seeking a license fee increase and is negotiating to rationalize its 2,200 staff. TV3 employs 200.

Granada paid £38.05 million for its 45 percent stake, £24.3 million in cash and an assumption of debt. TV3 expects to be profitable at the end of 2001.

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