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Channel 6 aims to compete with MTV, Sky 1 and E4. By John Byrne
They aim to match the big, foreign-owned stations with hits like Frasier, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, The Closer and Sex and the City, and to play RTÉ at their own game with home-produced content and Irish presenters. And with a four million euro publicity campaign behind it, a ten-year broadcast license and the backing of some of Ireland's wealthiest people, Channel 6, the new Irish television station, means business.
It has been available in 600,000 Irish homes since Thursday 28 March. Reaction has been quite positive. Joe O'Shea, television critic with the Star newspaper, says, "It doesn't try to be anything other than what it is – an Irish E4. They've got some decent crime and cop shows, and My Name Is Earl is a good choice. Quite a lot of them are repeats though – fans of Sex and the City will have seen all the old shows ages ago. But if you're too lazy to get out DVDs, like old repeats, or are a 17 year old who likes glossy American TV, you'll watch it. Most other people will flick by."
The backbone of Channel 6 will be imported shows with proven track records in ratings. But most of these will be re-runs, or will be already available to Irish viewers. Just the US version of The Office, Numbers, a crime series and House, a medical drama, will be exclusive to the station. It is the Irish-produced content that station executives hope will give Channel 6 the advantage over stations like E4, Sky One and MTV.
The four young Irish presenters (all pictured below) who are fronting Channel 6 have but a smidgeon of broadcasting experience between them. Access Hollywood, a celebrity gossip show, is hosted by Jenny Buckley, a minor actor with some voice-over experience. Brian Deveraux, whose afternoon show Popscene will preview gigs and feature new Irish and international music, was a television floor manager and camera man for the audition tapes of Channel 6. The late-night alternative music show will be presented by former model and current Aer Lingus air hostess Michelle Doherty. Only Taragh Loughrey-Grant, of Channel 6's movie show Take Six, has worked at the front end of the Irish media before, as FM104's entertainment correspondent.
But Pat Donnelly, one of the station's founders, feels that such scant broadcasting credentials are not a problem. "We're not going to buy in any big personalities to Channel 6. We want to give new talent a shot. Guys like Pat Kenny have been there for something like 30 years and young people aren't interested in looking at him anymore."
If Channel 6's presenters are callow, there are are some formidable figures from the world of Irish business behind the project. Michael Murphy and Pat Donnelly, the station's founders, met on the side of a football field in Cabinteely where their sons were playing in a match. Murphy, a former Eircom executive, had an idea for a television station, and Donnelly had lots of experience in the world of advertising: he made a fortune by selling his share in the advertising business he started, Carat Ireland (around 10 or 12 million euro).
They got some big-time moneybags to invest in Channel 6. The Barry family from Cork, famous for Barry's Tea and a political dynasty that includes Peter Barry, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, have a stake. Domhnal Slattery, chairman of plane leasing company Lombard Aviation Capital and an investor in The Clare People, is involved. Two venture capital funds have invested, Delta Partners and ACT Venture Capital (the latter with around a 25 per cent stake).
Channel 6 is competing in the most overpopulated part of the television market – the 15-35 age bracket. Even before the arrival of Channel 6, there were seven channels available to NTL basic subscribers aiming at Ireland's youth – RTÉ 2, TV3, Channel 4, E4, Sky One, MTV and Paramount Comedy. And recent figures released by ratings monitors AGB Nielsen show that RTÉ 1 had the highest market share in that category in February.
Channel 6 aims to capture three or four per cent of the Irish television market at the end of their first twelve months of broadcasting. They have good positioning on the electronic programme guide – on NTL Digital, they're on the sixth position after RTÉ 1 and 2, TV3, TG4 and Setanta. With a staff of 25, their overheads will be low relative to other Irish channels.
Joe Dalton, a media buyer with AFA O'Meara advertising, says, "They're single-minded – it's entertainment and nothing else. There is a lot of competition in that part of the market. They all say they're different from each other, but all we look at are figures. Channel 6 probably won't set the world on fire, but that's not to say it won't be a success."
"Sky came to Ireland and now take about 250-300 million out of Ireland every year and give back nothing. Viacom [who provide Paramount Comedy, Nickelodeon and MTV) just have a small ad sales team here and make loads of money out of the Irish market. It's like we're being colonised again. It's time an Irish company started competing with them," says Pat Donnelly.
"We're can't start in the Premier Division yet – we're in the first division. Stations like RTÉ are in the Premier Division – they have huge money. Between their advertising income and their license fee, RTÉ pull in at least 400 million euro. We're aiming for about 5 million this year. But that said, we are hoping to out-perform RTÉ proportionally this year." p