Northern Ireland

UTV Media agrees sale of TV stations to ITV for £100m

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Media captionUTV's share price rose sharply following the announcement

UTV Media has agreed to sell its television stations and brand to ITV for £100m.

The media company has operated in Northern Ireland since 1959 when it became the first commercial television channel in Ireland.

It launched a station in the Republic of Ireland in January this year.

But the new Dublin station struggled to find an audience and is expected to lose almost £12m this year.

In August UTV Media confirmed it was in talks regarding the potential sale of its television assets to ITV.

"Outstanding service"

The deal, which was confirmed on Monday, excludes UTV Media's radio businesses UTV Radio GB and UTV Radio Ireland, and its digital media businesses, Simply Zest and Tibus Digital.

The radio stations are responsible for about 60% of UTV Media's revenue.

That part of the business which is not being sold will be renamed at a later date.

ITV said it has no plans to change the on-air branding, meaning the UTV name will remain rather than becoming ITV Northern Ireland.

Image caption UTV broadcasts many of Northern Ireland's most watched programmes

Richard Huntingford, chairman of UTV said ITV would be a "good owner" of the business and UTV intend to continue to "pursue a successful strategy" in the radio business.

He said ITV's "scale and reach" would help accelerate future growth of the company and that shareholder value would increase through the television assets becoming part of ITV's global broadcast and content business.

He also thanked UTV television staff for their "outstanding service" over the years and wished them every success in the future.

UTV broadcasts many of Northern Ireland's most watched programmes.

'Long-standing relationship'

In August, it reported half-year profits of £1m on turnover of £58.3m.

That compared to profits of £10m in the same period of 2014.

Image caption UTV is based on the Ormeau Road in Belfast

The deal will need approval from the UK and Irish broadcasting regulators and Ireland's competition watchdog before going ahead.

Adam Crozier, ITV's chief executive, said the two companies had a "long-standing relationship".

"UTV has been the leading commercial broadcaster in Northern Ireland for many years," he said.

"UTV Television's strategic objectives are closely aligned with our own and we are very pleased that they are joining the ITV family."

John McCann, the group chief executive at UTV Media, said the sale was the "best way to take [the] business forward".

However, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, a former broadcaster with UTV, said he was concerned about the deal.

"I think it's a shame and I think long-term it will be potentially very damaging because it may not be the endgame, ITV itself could be under threat from a global player," he said.

He said while a commitment to the UTV branding was important "the commitment may only be short-term".

On completion of the deal ITV will own 13 of the 15 regional licences for the channel three network.

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