ON May 1 Ireland’s first international television channel will launch, broadcasting 24 hours a day, featuring 50 home-produced programmes a week and offering original content every night from 6-12pm.
Irish TV will broadcast via channel 191 on Sky in Britain and Europe and on PBS in the US, offering a bustling line-up that promises to ‘showcase the Irish Diaspora worldwide’ as well as the sharing the news they are missing from home.
The brainchild of journalists Pierce O’Reilly and Mairead Ní Mhaoilchiaráin, the €15million project recently won the backing of London-based businessman and Addison Lee founder John Griffin, who is now in place as chairman of the television venture.
But the Irish in Britain will be a focal point for the development of the channel, which has offices in London and Manchester, according to co-founder Pierce O’Reilly.
Fiona Audley spoke to O’Reilly about the plans for Irish TV.
Tell us about the background to the Irish TV venture?
Mairead and I have always been involved in the media industry in Ireland; we are both journalists and have worked across print, radio and TV. We have travelled extensively as well and realised when in England, America and Australia that it was very important to keep in touch with home and to keep our identity and our ties.
Yet, while there was lots of brilliant radio stations and newspapers doing that, there was no TV platform where people could actually see what was happening at home and actually be a part of it. So that was what we started to develop four years ago.
We started out of necessity as well, as we were in a recession and we realised that if we were to survive as media people that we would have to create a platform that others could use.
A platform that communities could use which would benefit everybody, so Irish TV is about working in partnership with communities at home and abroad and developing something that’s going to benefit everybody.
Creating a new channel is a big undertaking, how challenging has it been?
The key to our success so far is that we were very creative and brave people and we didn’t know too much about what we were doing, as four years down the road, if we realised that we know now, we definitely would not have done it.
We have learnt every single thing and today we are talking to the biggest broadcasters in the world about technology. Everything from smart TV, second screen TVs, bandwidth you name it.
The TV industry is hugely technical and hugely complicated but we have learnt it all and we understand it all and now we are leading the market and the industry in Ireland.
What support have you had along the way?
When we started we needed a lot of expertise in different areas and because we didn’t have the finance to hire consultants and media experts we pretty much did it ourselves. We worked 24 hours a day from our base in Westport, Co, Mayo.
We’d finish work and go home and be watching and learning the industry and the changing technology within it and eventually we developed our own technology, our own networks and platforms, and took chances on introducing new technology.
We realised very quickly that people really liked what we were doing; they particularly liked the fact that we are a family-run television channel and not a conglomerate. We are ordinary people trying to do something that’s extraordinary, and people have supported us all along the way because of that.
But it’s a €15million project and we were also very lucky to get a key investor on board in Addison Lee founder John Griffin. He said he was excited about the technology we were developing, and that he had built Addison Lee on technology so he would do whatever it takes to help us develop it and grow it.
Since then we have become great friends and great partners and he has helped us launch a fantastic new idea that will benefit every single community and every single county and the two countries of Ireland and UK, to allow people to tell their stories and bring those stories to a global audience.
What can we expect from the channel?
We are in test mode at the moment, but we have purchased the entire 191 Sky channel, and we own it outright. First we are going to roll out 32 county programmes, for every county in Ireland.
They will each have their own half hour TV programme per week, which will be complimented by two half hour programmes from the UK, one from Manchester and one from London, which will reach out to all the areas across Britain where there is an Irish community.
How important are the Irish in Britain to the Irish TV model?
The UK market is critical to the development of Irish TV. While we have been testing with one hour a week on Sky 191 for the last three years it’s the people living up and down the UK who have been our motivation and inspiration, as they are telling us ‘we love what you are doing, it’s our little piece of home once a week’.
They are constantly contacting us asking us to cover things in the counties in Ireland where are from and then also their stories in the UK as well.
That’s been the driving force for us, reaching out to the Diaspora in the UK and further afield. We send the stories in both directions, we cover their local stories and to compliment that we cover the global Irish story and send it back to the people of Ireland.
What is the buzz like at Irish TV’s offices ahead of the big launch date?
At the moment the Irish TV offices are like the headquarters of Google international, it is absolutely phenomenal, the adrenaline is gushing through our veins.
We have two people on the phone full-time answering calls from people who want us to cover their stories. It’s very exciting as the idea behind this is not to make or Mairead millionaires. Ireland have gone through a really tough time and we as media people have covered the damage to industries like construction and retail, but no one ever talked about the media industry.
But the media industry in Ireland has been absolutely hammered; people have lost their jobs in paper, radio and television. We have always felt that if we could create a platform that people would engage with then we could get Ireland’s media industry back on its feet.
What we have created at Irish TV is exciting because it’s the first time in about 10 years that there has been a serious announcement in the media sector here, and so it’s a win win situation. It’s going to showcase Ireland and the UK as great places to live, work and visit.