Denis O’Brien awarded all three Irish television multiplex licenses

July 21st, 2008 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

The BCI has just announced the results of its DTT licensing process. It had three applicants for three multiplex contracts, and decided to award all three contracts to the one applicant (each applicant had applied for all three of the contracts on an ‘all or nothing’ basis). That applicant is listed in the BCI press release as ‘Boxer DTT Limited’ which really tells the reader nothing.

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland has today (Monday, July 21st) announced its decision with regard to the award of the three national Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) multiplex contracts. The contracts were advertised by the Commission on the 7th of March last.

The Commission considered the applications received from three consortia and has awarded the contracts in principle to Boxer DTT Limited.
The award of the contracts is subject to clarifications and the successful outcome of contract negotiations, which will take place in the coming months.

Going to, however, it becomes clear that Denis O’Brien – who already owns 4 of Ireland’s 26 local commercial radio stations, the sole national commercial station, and the sole quasi-national commercial station (there are also 3 regional commercial stations) – has just become the monopoly operator of commercial digital television multiplexes in Ireland:

Communicorp Group is a radio holding company founded in 1989 with media and broadcast related interests in Ireland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine. It operates 48 radio stations under a variety of genres and has a history of innovations in programming based on escalating listener interaction. In addition, Communicorp has played on-going role in the DTT pilot.

In Ireland, Communicorp has interests in 6 commercial radio stations operating under sound broadcasting contracts with the BCI. Those businesses are operated by Radio Ireland Limited (Today FM) Maypril Limited (Spin 103.8) Radio Two Thousand Limited(98FM), News 106 Limited( Newstalk 106-108) Donegal Highland Radio Limited (Highland Radio) and Spin South West Limited (Spin South West).

Communicorp’s sole shareholder is Mr. Denis O’Brien, who is one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs, with extensive international interests in telecommunication, radio, property, aircraft leasing, golf and other leisure activities. He has an abiding interest in technology driven consumer facing markets, and a track record of successfully introducing new digital technologies in a number of countries. Over the years, Mr O’Brien has invested very heavily in supporting the indigenous Irish broadcasting sector.

As a reminder of the BCI’s stated intentions in entering the DTT process:

Under the 2007 Act, the BCI is required to licence commercial DTT in the State. In the first instance, the BCI will seek to licence three DTT multiplex operators for the establishment, maintenance and roll-out of commercial DTT in Ireland.

Thus, the award of all three multiplexes seems contrary to the BCI’s opening position. In some part, their hand was forced by the fact that:

In the case of each consortium, the applications submitted are conditional upon all three contracts being awarded to the applicant group. (BCI Press release 2 May, 2008)

It is questionable whether the BCI should have allowed its intended policy implementation to have been thwarted in this way – particularly when it results in increased oligopolistic control of the Irish airwaves.

As an aside, RTÉ, the state operator, has already been awarded a fourth multiplex to ensure “continued availability of the four existing free-to-air services in Ireland.” This indicates the presumption that O’Brien’s new multiplexes will not be available on a free-to-air basis. Coupled with the monopoly control of commercial DTT by O’Brien, it is clear to whom the benefits of digitization will accrue. The critique of spectrum licensing – made most prominently in the US by McChesney – that licensing amounts to a gift of public resources to private monopolies, seems particularly appropriate here.

  1. 3 Responses to “Denis O’Brien awarded all three Irish television multiplex licenses”

  2. By Antoin O Lachtnain on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    The thing about the three separate licences had more to do with avoiding a situation where the option had not been offered to the market. I don’t think anybody really thought it would be viable to have two or three players in the Irish market. It just doesn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. For a start, a lot of content would have to be duplicated between the multiplexes and this would reduce customer choice. For another, the marketing/startup costs would be too big.

  3. By Andrew Ó Baoill on Jul 22, 2008 | Reply

    I understand the attractiveness to operators of having multiple multiplexes, in terms of marketing synergy, etc. – it’s obviously cheaper to market a single branded product than three separate products.

    However, I’m not sure I’d accept your argument about duplication of content. The existing stations (RTÉ, TG4, TV3) will be on the RTÉ multiplex, so the multiplexes will not be expected to carry that material. Given that, there is room for each to specialize in particular areas, or to provide different versions of certain niche channels – one with Al Jazeera English, another with CNN, perhaps. One with National Geographic, another with the Discovery channel.

  4. By Brian Greene on Jul 26, 2008 | Reply

    I don’t think anything less than the 4 mux as a group are viable. I don’t think PPV DTT is viable either when it wasnt viable in the UK but freeview is and our pop in 20 times smaller. When will Boxer start asking for access to Mux 5&6 to make it all viable. But on the other hand UPC put EWTN on the limited NTL MMDS digital and exclude DCTV!

    “licensing amounts to a gift of public resources to private monopolies” it does! and we only have to think of Denis Digifone award & sale to see that. Here we go again. O’brien owns ~29% of Independent news papers. Our own Murdoch in the making. While evidence of abuse of this position are thin, I had to scream at the radio when on Thursday evening, independent news paper columnist Kevin Myres ended a 1 way traffic interview with Mary Harney on Newstalk, he finished with the words “thank you, you are a patriot”

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