The Belfast Telegraph, our main local newspaper here today put out an article about how UTV's position within the network may change in future years. It's available
There is an old adage that when elephants fight, the grass suffers. The same happens when they mate.
The two giant conglomerations of ITV, Carlton and Granada, are to be allowed to merge, bringing about the effective demolition of one of the foundations upon which ITV was built.
Commercial television began in the middle of the last century in Britain and was constructed as a set of interlocking but independent companies.
UTV was one of them and is one of the few to have survived the half century of development and change.
The federal structure of the ITV network is to disappear, to be replaced by one big company worth in excess of £4bn, called ITV Plc.
Remarkably, it has survived this latest convulsion as an independent company but may not do so for long.
Only two other companies will be outside ITV Plc, Scottish and Grampian (Channel TV in the Channel Islands is also outside, but it is very small).
Industry pundits are saying that their independent existence is doomed. As soon as ITV has gathered itself, it will gobble up the remaining bits, including UTV.
What will it mean for the devotee of Coronation Street and other UTV programmes? In the short run, probably remarkably little. Although ITV will now encompass 12 of the 15 regions of the UK, the licenses to broadcast television remain separate.
This means that each region must adhere to the number of hours of local programming stipulated in the licenses and other provisions designed to protect the regional and public service character of the programmes.
At present these licenses are issued and supervised by the Independent Television Commission which, at the end of the year, will be subsumed by a new over-arching telecoms regulator, Ofcom. So while the stuff on the screens will continue to look familiar, in the background everything is changing.
In the long run this process is bound to have a visible impact, and not just in Northern Ireland. Some industry analysts believe that the changes will in the end affect the broadcasting ecology of the whole island of Ireland.
Who owns UTV? The important shareholder is a Canadian multinational broadcaster called CanWest, which owns about 30%, sufficient to allow effective control where the rest of the shareholding is broken up. CanWest also owns 45% of TV3 in the Republic.
TV3 is the republic's only fully commercial television station, and it finds itself in competition with UTV, which had been steadily extending its reach over the whole of Ireland.
Now factor in the fact that Granada, now ITV, also owns 45% of TV3. ITV is the provider of most of UTV's programmes and is also selling programmes to TV3. Something will ultimately have to give in this situation.
CanWest probably bought into TV3 and into UTV with the idea of forming a bridgehead to expand into British Isles television. The creation of ITV Plc has scuppered that ambition for good.
Given that TV3 is losing money (unlike UTV which is very profitable) and that CanWest itself is in debt, selling the shareholdings in both these companies will begin to look like an attractive option for the Canadians. And the most likely buyer at this juncture looks like ITV.
Arise ITV Ireland, or something like it, British owned, of course, and from that point the two companies would cease to be in head-on commercial competition.
What would happen to UTV? The company has been expanding in what market-watchers jargon is called non-core activities, like radio, telephony and internet. It is looking like the wise old birds in UTV saw the writing on the wall long ago and formed a defensive strategy for survival.
ITV might only want the TV part of UTV. The rest of the activities might continue independently, called something like Ulster Communication. They could even encompass a new television station based in the republic aimed at sectors of the audience not yet served in that area.
And if television over broadband internet becomes a reality as many predict, arise a new-born Ulster Television! Funny old business, television.
Interesting article, quite a few things worth thinking about, ITV1 Ireland being a possibility, TV3 and UTV becomming one perhaps? A political hotbed if ever there was one but it could potentially stop the duplication of resources if the same company, ITV plc ends up running two similar services in roughly the same territories. Also, where is the ITC likely to stand on this? So many questions, so few answers! Some food for thought anyway!