ITV Sells Irish Channel That Will Remain in EU After Brexit

  • Brexit vote splits TV operation ITV bought just 5 months ago
  • Virgin Media buys UTV Ireland in Dublin, ITV keeps Belfast

ITV Plc agreed to sell Dublin-based UTV Ireland to Virgin Media, parting with an operation it bought less than five months ago that lies across the coming border with the European Union.

As part of the deal, Virgin Media will take over a 10-year contract to supply programming to ITV, according to a statement from ITV on Monday. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. London-based ITV paid 100 million pounds ($130 million) for the parent of UTV Ireland in February.

The sale, for an undisclosed sum, follows the U.K.’s June 23 decision to leave the EU, a vote that promises to cleave the larger UTV Media television operation that ITV bought. ITV is selling the part that serves the Republic of Ireland, which will remain part of the EU. ITV is keeping the Belfast-based operation, which is set to leave the E.U. with Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

“We recognize that this has been an uncertain period for the staff of UTV and UTV Ireland and we have been determined to reach a speedy resolution,” Christy Swords, director of broadcast finance and operations at ITV, said in the statement. “We believe that the decision we have made represents an important step forward for the future of the channel.”

Virgin Media, the U.K. cable-TV provider, is part of John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc. Liberty owns a 9.9 percent stake in ITV, whose shares have dropped 15 percent since the Brexit vote. ITV advanced 2.7 percent to 185.7 pence on Monday in London.

The UTV television assets, once called Ulster Television, were recently part of a larger business that included Belfast-based talk-radio broadcaster Wireless Group. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. agreed on June 30 to acquire Wireless Group for about 220 million pounds.

UTV Ireland is only 18 months old. It was introduced in January 2015, prior to ITV’s acquisition of UTV’s television assets earlier this year. Virgin Media operates Ireland’s TV3 channel.

“Launching UTV Ireland last year represented a significant achievement by the teams in Dublin and Belfast in challenging circumstances,” Swords said in the statement. “ITV took over the business a few months ago and we’ve concluded that bringing TV3 and UTV Ireland together under common ownership offers the best prospect of delivering a strong and sustainable Irish commercial broadcaster, underpinned by a long-term programming agreement with ITV.