Two and a half years after taking on Sir Richard Branson’s red and white livery, Tony Hanway revels in being the only Virgin brand in the country.
“It’s an attractive brand, we’ve had different brands before UPC, and I sometimes meet people who were in the company 30 years and they can remember multiple brands. But it’s the best brand we’ve had because it’s instantly recognisable,” he said in a Broadband TV News interview at Cable Congress, held in Dublin this week. “What I like about Branson is that he’s actually an icon of B2B and B2C, because he’s known as an entrepreneur and he’s hugely respected in business, but he also is known to consumers.”
Hanway says the Virgin name brings with it a bit of excitement that might otherwise be lacking.
But Virgin Media Ireland already has a foot in showbusiness. It’s the owner of TV3, the most popular commercial broadcaster in the country, and the most-watched on its cable network, ahead of RTE and Netflix. There follows channels that pick up just one or two per cent of audience share before drifting into a long tail than runs up to 90 channels.
Following its agreement to buy UTV Ireland in November 2016, TV3 was able to pick up content from ITV, enabling it to broadcast key shows such as This Morning, Coronation Street and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway often at the same time they are shown in the UK. Liberty Global is also ITV’s largest shareholder, which kind of keeps everything in the family, but could TV3 become Virgin TV?
“It’s true to say that we’ve often looked at the rebranding opportunity, but at this stage it’s not on the agenda. TV3 is doing really well, it has an established brand in Ireland, and it’s growing very nicely in terms of viewership and commercial impacts. I think the association between the two brands is becoming transparent and people are aware that Virgin Media is the parent company”.
Presenters on the station are increasingly associated with Virgin Media and the Virgin logo appears as part of the credits in TV3 shows.
But while TV3 brings showbiz sparkle, broadband is what is pushing up the revenues.
I hate to admit it, but we’re not the fastest in Liberty Global, we’re the second fastest but I’m happy to give the accolade to Robert [Redeleanu] in Romania, but over 90 per cent of our customers have access to 360 Mbps, which 100 per cent faster than anything in Ireland. The record stands across the country and is, says Hanway, something that isn’t going to disappear any time soon.
Like the UK, Virgin Media Ireland is involved in Project Lightning, increasing its footprint by five per cent over the past five years, which is pretty substantial. “Footprint growth had stalled over the past five years of the economic recession and with Liberty Global’s renewed investment we’ve got Lightening really starting to hum. Last year was the highest number of new homes and premises passed, 48,000, and this year we’re hoping to do some pretty similar.
“A lot of people, and commentators like you and me, enjoy fast speeds in broadband. We forget that there’s very significant numbers of people who are getting substandard broadband. They still exist. There’s still lots of lousy copper network out there and there’s even places where people are getting 5 meg. Ireland has plenty of rural locations where people are getting 1.5 meg, which is like you would have got on mobile broadband six of seven years ago.
With no houses being built during Ireland’s recession there was both a glut of property and no new homes to connect. But like the UK, housing still isn’t fast enough with 10,000 homes built during a period when 40,000 were needed, and while the mechanics of planning permission are still to be wound back up again, Hanway says Virgin is ready at the point that is the cheapest method of pulling in new customers.
But Brexit casts a shadow at a time when there is no clarity on what any border between Ireland and the UK might look like.
“At a macro level, Brexit is catastrophically a bad decision and it doesn’t serve anyone in Ireland, the UK or the European Union, which is increasingly borne out by the chaos we’ve had over the last 12 months, and that’s a personal view. We’ll be looking at more chaos before it gets resolved. It hasn’t had any negative effect on our business, and there are people who say that Great Britain’s loss will be Ireland’s gain.
“If you were going to move it to where would you do that. Would you move it to Portugal or would you move it to Ireland. But if the UK really suffers that’s not good for the Irish economy.”