- Plans by BSkyB to move in on the booming £150 million a year advertising market in Eire have set alarm bells ringing for TV3, the new Irish independent station which is due to go on air in the autumn.
In an effort to protect its revenue from the new challenger, it has complained about the Sky move to the Irish industry's regulatory body, the Independent Radio and Television Commission.
Executives of the Murdoch satellite company have already had talks on its plans with media buyers in Dublin. While there was no official comment, they are believed to have indicated that Sky News and Sky One would be screening separate Irish commercials as early as next January.
Industry sources estimate that the two channels could cream off up to £5 million a year from the Irish market -- a figure which represents half of the advertising revenue which TV3 has budgeted on attracting in its first year.
Confirming that he had referred the Sky move to the Commission, TV3 chief executive Rick Hetherington admitted that he was worried about the impact on the fledgling station of a major new competitor in an already crowded advertising market. "From a business standpoint, the more competition you face, the more difficult your life becomes." he said.
"The issue is this: should someone not providing a primary service in a country be allowed to sell commercial airtime in that country? I'm certainly not aware of any application by Sky to offer a separate service in Ireland for Ireland."
Six years ago BSkyB attempted to insert separate commercials for Eire, but the move was blocked by RTE, the national broadcaster, a major shareholder in Cablelink, which carries the Sky channels. But Cablelink is now being sold, with RTE having to relinquish its shareholding, a move which opens the way for a fresh offensive by Sky.