Irish media consumption patterns are broadly in line with European norms although there are some notable distinctions. According to Eurobarometer television remains the most used source of news but only 62% of Irish respondents identified it as such compared with the European average of 75%. Conversely Irish news consumers are somewhat more likely than their European counterparts to use online news platforms (48%) and radio (44%) to access news. (This is reflected in the fact that 12% of Irish news consumers pay to access online news content as opposed to 8% across the EU.) Irish news consumers are significantly more likely to access news via social media platforms and blogs (47% of Irish news consumers as opposed to just 26% on average in Europe). Within the EU, only Cyprus reports higher use of social media/blogs for accessing news. And, reflecting ongoing declines in newspaper circulations, just 19% of Irish news consumers report accessing news via print outlets in the previous week.
66% of the Irish population express medium to high levels of trust in the media as a whole, just above the EU average of 61%. However, the frequency of media use noted above does not directly reflect trust, however. Radio is the most trusted medium in Ireland: 65% of news audiences “tend to trust” the medium (as opposed to 56% in the rest of the EU). Television comes in second with 59%. Despite low levels of use, 52% of news consumers tend to trust the printed press.
Irish news consumers tend to be more sceptical than most with regard to online news sources: just 26% of the population tend to trust internet news sources (as compared with 35% in the rest of the EU), a figure which falls to 17% for social networks. 37% of Irish news consumers express the belief that they have “often” or “very often” been exposed to disinformation in the previous seven days (as compared with 28% in the rest of the EU). However, Irish news consumers also express more confidence in their capacity to recognise disinformation than any other EU citizens. Fully 81% state that they are “somewhat” or “very” confident of their ability to distinguish between real and fake news.
In the absence of directly comparable circulation/readership figures (see our discussion on missing information below) for the main print media in Ireland since 2018-2020, it has become increasingly difficult to ascribe audience/revenue share figures to different print groups. Nonetheless, based on older circulation patterns we can identify the following groups as particularly significant.
The Belgian Media Group Mediahuis acquired Independent News and Media (IMN) 2019 after entering negotiations with the then leading shareholders (Denis O’Brien 29.99% and Dermot Desmond (15%). Originally established around the Irish Independent daily in 1906 the group was owned by the Murphy family until 1973 when businessman Tony O’Reilly took effective of the company. It remained in O’Reilly hands until the 2000s when Denis O’Brien gradually built up his stake in the company and ousted the O’Reilly Family.
The main outlets in the group are The Irish Independent (still the best-selling daily in Ireland), The Herald (previously an evening paper but a daily since 2013) and two Sunday papers: The Sunday Independent (the best-selling Sunday) and the tabloid The Sunday World. The Group also owns The Belfast Telegraph (acquired in 2000) and owned 50% of the Irish Daily Star until 2020 (when it was sold to Reach PLC). Mediahuis also owns 11 of the largest regional print titles including The Kerryman, the Corkman and The Sligo Champion. Finally, it also owns Newspread, by far the largest distributor of newspapers and magazines (including non-Mediahuis titles) in Ireland.
At its peak, the IMN stable of papers accounted for 80% of print sales of Irish-published newspapers. As Mediahuis Ireland, the group remains the largest player in the market, but post-takeover there is a marked shift towards a digital first approach, targeting an increase in online subscriptions. Mediahuis announced the closure of its only printing press (based in Newry in Northern Ireland) in September 2022 and in April 2023, Mediahuis Chief Executive Peter Vandermeersch stated that he expected printed newspapers to disappear entirely within a decade.
The Irish Times Group
Growing out the Irish Times Newspaper (established 1859), the Irish Times Group added the Irish Examiner national daily and the Cork-based regional paper The Echo as well as two local radio stations to its holdings in 2018. It has also owned myhome.ie, the country’s most visited property portal, since 2006.
Based on the last published circulation figures (from 2019), The Irish Times is the second largest-selling daily national, but even with the additional of papers from the 2018 acquisition of the Landmark Media Group, its total sales and reach are well behind Mediahuis.
The Irish Times Group (officially “The Irish Times Designated Activity Company”) has an unusual ownership structure. In 1974 the Irish Times Trust CLG was created to purchase the paper. Although the 11 Governors of the Trust are responsible for guaranteeing the independence of the company (and appointing the board which runs the company on a day-today basis), the Governors cannot receive dividends from the company. In effect then the Irish Times has no beneficial shareholders and any profits are meant to be used to strengthen the publishing operations of the group. In theory then, the absence of any obligation to produce profits/dividends for shareholders reduces the extent to which the operations of the group are driven by commercial imperatives. (In practice, it is not always clear that this is the case as evinced by the decision to spend €50m on acquiring MyHome.ie.)
The Murdoch-family controlled News Corporation owns a daily and a Sunday paper with offices and employing journalists Ireland: the Irish Sun and the Sunday Times Ireland edition. The group also included an Irish edition of The Times newspaper until 2022. As such, it typified the strategies of a number of UK-based publishers to expand sales of UK-based print titles in Ireland by launching localised “Irish” editions from the 1990s onwards. This saw content from the UK version of The Sun augmented with material contributed by Irish journalists.
At its peak the Irish Sun vied with the Irish Daily Star to be the most read daily tabloid, selling over 100,000 copies daily in the mid-2000s. The Sunday Times Ireland also sold well in this period, average more than 100,000 sales each Sunday. As elsewhere, however, print sales have plummeted to approximately 35,000 (Irish Sun) and 61,000 (Sunday Times) as of 2022. In July 2022, Irish updates of the daily Irish Edition of The Times ceased as a dozen journalists (more than half the total) were let go. The newspapers also ended their office space leases moving into space shared with other News Corporation-owned outlets, Wireless Radio Ireland group and the book publisher Harper Collins Ireland.
The UK-based publisher which includes The Daily Express and the Daily Star amongst its 130 titles, also owns three Irish titles: the Irish Mirror, the Irish Sunday Mirror and – since 2020 – the Irish Daily Star. Again, as with News Corporation titles, the Irish papers are localised version of UK-based publications, although in many respects they are editorially distinct form their UK counterparts. The daily editions of the Mirror and Star cumulatively sell approximately 50,000 copies while the Irish Sunday Mirror sells around 15,000 copies.
Daily Mail and General Trust
Having long sold the UK editions of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday in Ireland, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) established a more definitive footing in the Irish market in 2001 when it acquired the Ireland on Sunday newspaper. This was used as a base to launch two titles in 2006, the Irish Daily Mail and the Irish Daily Mail on Sunday. As with other titles, both saw sales collapse after 2008 and their current respective circulations of 20,000 and 45,000 are a third of their peak pre-2008 sales. Some 40 employees left the Irish subsidiary Associated Newspapers Ireland in 2019 but as of 2021 the company still employs 120 staff.
Daily Mail and General Trust was a publicly-quoted company from 1932 but in 2021, Lord Rothermere, the great-grandson of the group’s founder, Alfred Harmsworth, delisted the company, having secured sufficient shareholder support to allow him to bring it private.
Mediaforce (operating at Formpress Publishing Limited in Ireland) is the single largest regional newspaper group in Ireland with 22 paid-for titles owned across the 32 counties and, as of December 2022, 15 in the Republic of Ireland. The group also owns 7 local freesheets and operates 13 locally-targeted news websites associated with print titles.
The parent company, Mediaforce Conciege (Holdings) Limited is based in the UK and is wholly owned by the Denmark family. Mediaforce was established by Malcolm Denmark in 1985 to represent media outlets to advertising agencies which remains a substantial element of Mediaforce’s business. The move into direct ownership of media outlets came in April 2014 when Iconic Newspapers Limited, a Mediaforce subsidiary, acquired the 14 Irish titles of the Johnson Press Group for €8.7m. Johnson Press had spent more than €200m building up a stable of Irish titles in the 2000s but their value of those assets collapsed in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.
In its 2019 assessment of Formpress Publishing’s proposed acquisition of The Midland Tribune newspapers, the considered the implications of Mediaforce’s role as “a conduit for advertising agencies to channel national advertising spend to local/regional newspaper and digital newspaper titles in the State.” In 2004 the Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland had appointed Mediaforce as the sole national advertising agent for its member publications. Although the CCPC found that the bulk of local press advertising revenues came from local businesses, it nonetheless concluded that 10-20% of advertising revenues came from national advertisers and advertising agencies and thus were mediated through Mediaforce Ireland. Given this, the CCPC expressed concern that “Given that Mediaforce occupies a very strong position in the provision of the service of channelling national advertising to local/regional newspapers and digital newspaper titles in the State and that Mediaforce group owns and operates local/regional newspapers and websites, the Commission is concerned that Mediaforce will have the ability and incentive to foreclose its local/regional newspaper competitors.”
In response, Mediaforce and Formpress gave commitments to the CPSS to direct advertising business from advertisers and advertising agencies to local/regional newspapers and digital newspapers on a “strictly fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis and to apply equivalent conditions in equivalent circumstances to all Formpress Titles and Non-Formpress Titles.” The CCPC considered these proposals “appropriate and effective” means of addressing the Commission’s competition concerns.
The audience share commanded by the three radio stations operated by the state-owned PSM, RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) is the largest of any radio group in Ireland. RTE Radio 1, 2FM and RTE Lyric FM) account for a nearly 28% share of minutes listened on Irish radio in 2022. The PSM is funded by a combination of licence fee (approximately €200m per annum) and advertising income (€150m). RTÉ operates at an arm’s length from direct state control and day-to-day responsibility for the running of the stations lies with the RTE Authority. Authority members are appointed by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media with some input from related Parliamentary committees. Despite this, overtly political nominations have not been a feature of Authority appointments.
The second largest player in the Irish radio market is Bauer Media Audio Ireland LP. Bauer owns both national commercial stations, one Dublin station and three other local/regional stations. Together these stations enjoy a market share of just under 25%. The German-based Bauer entered the Irish market in 2021 when they acquired the five-station Communicorp Group from its founder-owner Denis O’Brien for approximately €100m. In 2022 Bauer announced the acquisition of Cork station Red FM from Vienna Investments and the Irish Times.
The final player of significant size is Wireless Ireland, a six-station group (including two in Dublin) which accounted for just over 12% of the radio market in 2022. Wireless is ultimately owned by News Corporation which acquired the Irish operation in 2016 along with 12 UK-based stations. The Wireless Group grew out of the Northern Irish-based UTV Media Group which rebranded as Wireless after selling it television holdings and the UTV Brand to ITV PLC in 2015.
The state-owned PSM, RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) is also the largest player in the Irish television market. The station’s three linear channels (RTE 1, RTE 2 and RTE jr) cumulatively command a 26.75% audience share as of 2022. (There is also a second, separate state-owned PSM, TG4, which mainly broadcasts in the Irish language but which has a much small share of 2%.)
The other major player in the Irish market is Virgin Media Television which is ultimately owned by Liberty Global, the US-based cable giant. Liberty Global also own Virgin Media Ireland which enjoys a dominant position in the Irish cable market offering quad-play packages (broadband, television, home phone and – using telco Three’s infrastructure – mobile phone). Virgin’s four channels are more or less exclusively commercially-funded (except for relatively small sums accessed via the Irish Media Regulator-operated Sound and Vision scheme). The Virgin group grew out of the TV3 group, the first national commercial station, which initially went on air in 1998. Virgin Media acquired TV3 and UTV Ireland in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The cumulative audience share of the group was 18.79 % in 2022.
In addition Sky Television suite of 15 channels have a market share of approximately 6%.The station was previously owned by News Corporation but was acquired by Comcast in 2018. Sky Digital, which effectively monopolises the satellite television distribution market in Ireland is also owned by Comcast.
The two main BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) television stations also account for 6% of the Irish audience but this is augmented by the cumulative 3-4% audience share held by channels owned by the BBC subsidiary UKTV. The BBC does not sell advertising in Ireland via its inhouse brands, but advertising space on their UKTV brands (including UK Gold, Dave and W) is sold to Irish advertisers by Sky Media Ireland.
According to the Reuters Digital News Report for Ireland, nine of the ten most frequently used digital brands in Ireland are offshoots of legacy media outlets. RTE News Online is the most popular online news brand with 24% of the population accessing the PSM’s content in this manner. Independent.ie is the third most popular online digital news brand, irishtimes.com, the fourth and BreakingNews.ie (a subsidiary of the Irish Times) is the fifth.
Even looking at the top 30 online newsbrands, just seven can be regarded as digital native news services and only one of these is in the top ten. That said TheJournal.ie is the second most frequently consulted online news source.
TheJournal.ie is owned by Journal Media Ltd, the shareholders of which are Eamon and Brian Fallon. The Fallon brothers also own shares in the Distilled SCH, a joint venture with the Norwegian Schibsted group. Distilled SCH’s Irish holding includes DAFT.ie in 1997 as a website listing property rentals established by the Fallon brothers in 1997. DAFT remains a thriving operation and the wider Distilled SCH group now includes the two largest classified advertising websites in Ireland (Adverts.ie and Donedeal.ie) and Boards.ie, the most popular online forum in Ireland. TheJournal.ie does not operate a paywall and is largely (88%) funded through advertising. In recent years, however, it has begun to solicit voluntary contributions from its readership although, as of 2023, these account for just 4% of total income for the media outlet. TheJournal also runs the primary Fact-Checking operation in Ireland and is financially supported in doing so by the European Commission-funded Irish Hub of the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO).
 Flash Eurobarometer (2022) News and Media Survey 2022. https://europa.eu/eurobarometer/surveys/detail/2832
 EBU Media Intelligence Service (2022) Trust in Media 2022 Public Version. https://www.ebu.ch/publications/research/login_only/report/trust-in-media
 Determination of Merger Notification No. M/19/010 – Formpress Publishing (Iconic) / Assets of Midland Tribune https://www.ccpc.ie/business/mergers-acquisitions/merger-notifications/m-19-010-formpress-publishing-iconic-assets-of-midland-tribune/
With a population of 5.1 million people as of the 2022 Census, the Republic of Ireland is considered to be a small market. This inevitably reduces the scope for extensive competition and thus a degree of concentration might be considered inevitable. Despite this, there is arguably more choice in some markets – notably print – than might be considered commercially viable. This owes much to the fact that despite the nominal position of Irish as one of the official national languages, Ireland is a de facto Anglophone country. Thus media from other English-speaking countries have been a prominent feature of the local media landscape since the foundation of the state.
This was most evident in the print sector but even in broadcasting, the availability of signal overspill from the BBC in Belfast into the Irish Free State from 1922 was a key driver in the decision to establish a state-owned indigenous radio station (2RN) in 1926.
Furthermore, when the state-owned broadcaster transitioned to offering a television service after the passage of the 1960 Broadcasting Act, the cost of producing indigenous content in-house, created a strong incentive to purchase English-language content from overseas (mainly the US but also the UK and Australia). When UNESCO came to survey international flows of television content in the early 1970s, Ireland was an outlier in terms of the extent to which it relied on imported content especially in fiction formats.
When provision for privately owned commercial television was introduced via the 1988 Radio and Television Act, the initial recipient of the franchise was an Irish-based consortium (The Windmill Lane Group). However, that group struggled to find a viable business model, delaying the actual commencement of the station by some seven years. It was only after investment from media groups outside the State (most notably the Canadian CanWest Global) that their station – TV3 – was able to go on air (in 1998). This reliance on overseas content was cemented when UK broadcaster Granada invested in the company in 2000.
The economic boom period from 1995 until 2007 prompted increasing interest in Irish media from overseas players and a degree of ownership transfer did occur as a variety of UK-based media groups (Trinity Mirror, Scottish Radio Holdings, EMAP etc.) moved in and out of the Irish market. Nonetheless print and radio broadcasting largely remained in the hands of Irish-based companies until the end of the 2010s. Indeed for a period from 2010, a single individual – Denis O’Brien – was both the single largest shareholder in the largest domestic print media group (Independent News and Media) and the outright owner of the largest (in terms of audience share) private commercial radio group. Though the reach of the Denis O’Brien-related outlets was significantly behind that of the state broadcaster, the concentration of some media ownership in his hands was sufficient to prompt the introduction of media-specific section in the 2014 Competition and Consumer Protection Act. (Albeit the act was not retrospective in its impact and thus could not affect existing media ownership.)
Denis O’Brien’s exit from the Irish media market (selling his stake in Independent News and Media to Belgium’s Mediahuis in 2019 and Communicorp to the German Bauer Media in 2021) reduced the extent of concentration of media ownership in Ireland. However, it also definitively shifted the centre of gravity for Irish media ownership beyond the state. Four of the five largest print groups are domiciled overseas. The two largest private radio groups are also UK-based whilst Liberty Global’s acquisition of TV3 and UTV Ireland (subsequently rebranded as Virgin Media Television Ireland) means that the only significant commercial station is US-owned. (These patterns are evident in related sectors such as mobile telephony and broadband provision which are dominated by firms based in the UK, France, Hong Kong and the US.)
As of 2023, Irish-based national media are effectively limited to the state-owned PSMs and the Irish Times Group.
Ironically, in an era often characterised as an age of informational abundance it has become increasingly difficult to establish both the audience and market (i.e. revenue) shares of precisely those institutions which are most associated with that particular zeitgeist. For reasons outlined below, the transnational nature of many of the institutions which now dominate media ownership in Ireland often makes it impossible to disaggregate their Irish market revenues (and thus market shares).
The situation is somewhat better in terms of audience share but even here there are informational gaps. The withdrawal of virtually every Irish-facing newspaper from the Audit Bureau of Circulation after 2018 means that we no longer have a time series of directly comparable figures for print circulation. The new emphasis on readership (combing online and print consumption) rather than print sales also makes it very difficult to directly compare the audiences of all players in the print sector since the various print groups tend to use inconsistent metrics.
We do have access to reliable figures for linear television. The PSM, RTÉ owns the leading stations, its three channels commanding a 26.75% in 2022. It is followed by Virgin Media Television on 19% and the BBC on approximately 10% (if we aggregate the audiences for channels owned by its subsidiary UKTV). The Comcast-owned Sky Television is the fourth largest player, with a 6% market share across its plethora of channels.
RTÉ is also the leading radio station: its three main radio stations cumulatively account for 28% of the national audience. It is followed by Bauer Media’s six stations on 25% and those of the Wireless Group on 12%.
Market share remains a slightly problematic concept with regard to online media. The best available proxy, that offered by the Reuters Digital News Report identifies the PSM’s website, RTE News Online, as the most used digital news brand in Ireland, accessed by 24% of adults surveyed in the previous week. It is followed by the only digital native news outlet, TheJournal.ie (accessed by 16% of respondents), the Mediahuis-owned Independent.ie (15%), the Irish Times Group’s irishtimes.com (10%) and BreakingNews.ie (also owned by the Irish Times Group and also accessed by 10% of respondents). The remaining top ten digital brands all recorded sub-10% incidences of visits from the respondents surveyed and all were offshoots of legacy brands: the BBC, Sky News, local radio stations, the Irish Examiner and the Guardian.
Although legal protections regarding transparency of media ownership are not strong, in practice access to information regarding the global ultimate ownership of media firms in Ireland is relatively freely available. Since 2020, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (now the Media Commission) has commissioned the School of Communications at Dublin City University to maintain an online database of print, broadcast and online news media ownership, mediaownership.ie. This is updated at least annually (and, in practice, much frequently).
However, there is no legal obligation on Irish-based media companies to declare their beneficial ownership. For the most part that information is accessible (for a small fee) via the Irish Companies Records Office and media outlets themselves are usually happy to provide ownership data. However, there remain a handful of cases (relating to smaller-scale media) where this is not the case.
The other risk relates to the extent to which Irish media are increasingly owned by overseas parents. This means accessing company records/ownership databases located beyond Ireland which may entail translation and a grasp of ownership regulation in other jurisdictions (such as Securities and Exchange Commission filings in the US) to develop a full picture of global ultimate ownership. This requires considerable expertise and time.
Finally, there is the question of market and audience data. Changing patterns of newspaper consumption (the move away from purchasing printed editions towards their online consumption) had made print circulations less relevant as metric of newspaper consumption. Instead there is increasing emphasis on “readership” combining print and online consumption. However, as a consequence, most Irish-facing newspapers have withdrawn from the Audit Bureau of Circulation so we no longer have access to recent print sales figures. For marketing purposes, most print outlets will publish some readership data on their websites but different outlets present this data in different ways (weekly versus monthly reach, unique visitor numbers etc.) and the data is not always up to date. As a consequence it is difficult to arrive at reliable estimates of the audience share of various print outlets and thus their relative influence.
There is much better data relating to audience share within the radio and television broadcast markets collecting by Ipsos MRBI and TAM Nielsen. Assessing the total share of different radio groups is complicated by the fact that that the two largest privately owned groups operate across national, regional and local markets. As a consequence, assessing total market share requires some weighting of markets. However, in our experience, Ipsos MRBI have been very flexible in doing such calculations and providing total market share assessments.
Getting an overall picture of the media market shares in terms of revenue is significantly more complicated and is effectively impossible based on publicly available resources. One of the key issues stems from the extent of international ownership and the financial reporting practices of international media owners. News Corporation, Liberty Global, Bauer Media, Reach PLC, Daily Mail and General Trust and Mediaforce are a mix of publicly quoted companies and private corporations. Some produce publicly available annual reports, some do not. Some break down their global revenues by national markets. Others do not. Very few publish sufficient data to allow a researcher to straightforwardly identify how much revenue individual groups are earning within specific media sectors in Ireland. And, in the absence of comparable data across the sector, it is effectively impossible to arrive at reliable descriptions of media market share by revenue.
Distribution of media content is controlled by a mix of public and private players with varying levels of state regulation.
In print distribution, two companies effectively control the market. Newspread (a subsidiary of Mediahuis Ireland) has a de facto monopoly distributing newspapers and magazines to somewhere on the region of 6,500 retailers across Ireland on behalf of both Mediahuis and its commercial rivals. In 2007 the Irish-based newsagent and distributor Eason & Son established a joint venture – EM News Distribution – with the UK company John Menzies to distribute printed material including newspapers and magazines. In 2017 Menzies purchased Easons’ stake in the company in its entirety.
Radio broadcast distribution is effectively controlled by a single company, 2RN. 2RN is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PSM, RTÉ. All analogue national radio broadcasters rely on the 2RN-maintained and operated communications infrastructure to reach their audiences. All radio stations are now distributed via the FM band after RTÉ stopped broadcasting via longwave in April 2023. Digital Audio Broadcasting was offered in varying degrees of geographic reach between 2006 and 2021 but was never adopted by commercial radio stations and in March 2021, the PSM, RTÉ announced that it was also ceasing DAB transmissions as part of a round of cost-cutting measures. 2RN is designated as an operator with Significant Market Power under the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Framework) Regulations 2011 (as transposed into Irish law via Statutory Instrument No. 333 of 2011). This allows the relevant regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation, to impose transparency, non-discrimination, accounting separation, price control and cost accounting obligations upon 2RN.
The changing nature of television distribution and the advent of newer conduits for content has complicated the task of describing the market. The fact that individual households may have more than one reception method adds a further layer of complexity. Nonetheless the Commission for Communications Regulations broadly breaks down into cable distribution, satellite, DTT, and IPTV. Sky Digital (owned by Comcast) is the largest primary provider of television distribution services and is available in 39.1% of Irish households as of January 2023. 21.7% of households have a cable connection as their primary means of accessing linear television and, within this market, Virgin Media Ireland (owned by Liberty Global) is by far the largest player. 2RN exclusively operates the national Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Infrastructure. 37.2% of Irish households have a DTT connection but most use DTT as a secondary connection and only 11.2% mainly rely on it access television content. Finally 5.9% of households report using IPTV as their primary means of accessing broadcast content.
Reference to IPTV demonstrates the complexity of the subject since IPTV is not strictly a distribution infrastructure but rather a means of distributing television content live or on-demand using Internet Protocols. Thus a broadband connection – via co-axial cable, optical fibre or even mobile broadband – may be sufficient to access IPTV services. The increasing de-coupling of content provision from the provision of connectivity makes it harder to track market shares in the television distribution sector.
“Cord-cutting” (that is abandoning subscriptions to traditional television distributors) is certainly an increasing feature of the Irish market. This is reflected in shift towards non-linear screen content consumption, especially amongst younger viewer cohorts. TAM Nielsen figures suggest that, amongst all adults (those over 15 years of age), linear television still accounts for the bulk of television viewing time (159 minutes out of a daily average total of 215 minutes) with Streaming Video-on-Demand (e.g. Netflix) and Video Sharing Platforms (like Youtube) accounting for 21 and 35 minutes respectively. However, the 15-34 year old cohort spends far more time on Video Sharing Platforms (60 minutes daily) as opposed to 65 minutes on linear television and 32 minutes on SVOD.
This brings us to the broadband market. Virgin Media and Sky are also players in this market accounting for 23.6% and 14.5% of the fixed broadband market as of Q1 2023. However, the largest single player with 27.6% of the market is Eir, the former state-owned Telco, now a private company owned by French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel’s Illiad SA. The UK-based Vodafone is the third largest player with 20.0%. Within the mobile market, the Hong Kong based Three Group (owned by Hutchinson Whampoa) is the largest player with a 43.6% share, followed by Vodafone on 33.2%. Eir occupies third position with 14.8%.
Which laws concern transparency in media ownership and control?
The 2009 Broadcasting Act as revised by the 2022 Online Safety and Media Regulation Act, makes some reference to media ownership and control. Section 7(2) C of the consolidated version of the 209 Act states that the Media Commission’s functions include ensuring that “the broadcasting services and audiovisual on-demand media services available in the State are open, inclusive and pluralistic”. Section 7(3) N adds that the Commission shall “endeavour to ensure diversity and transparency in the control of communication media operating in the state”. The Act also states that in any change in the ownership of broadcasting services licenced by the Media Commission requires the permission of the Commission. However the Act does not go into any further detail in this regard.
Given this, the key legislation relating to media ownership is the 2014 Competition and Consumer Protection Act, Part 4 of which is exclusively dedicated to Media Mergers.
The earlier 2002 Competition Act did not take media pluralism and diversity into account when considering media mergers confining the Competition Authority to assessing the impact of media mergers on advertising markets. Perhaps as a consequence when a wave of media mergers and acquisitions began around 1995 (continuing until the economic crash of 2008), virtually every one was approved by the Competition Authority, leading to a degree of consolidation in the local print and radio markets in particular.
In consequence, the 2014 legislation added a new element to the media mergers and acquisitions process whereby the market assessment had to be accompanied by a pluralism and diversity assessment. That explicitly political judgement is made by the Minister for Media (previously the Minister for Communications) who is empowered to seek assistance from the Media Commission (previously Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) in cases where the consequences of the decision to grant or withhold assent to a merger are not clearcut.
In assessing such mergers the 2014 Act requires the Minister (and potentially the Media Commission) to take into account, inter alia, “the undesirability of allowing any one undertaking to hold significant interests within a sector or across different sectors of media business in the State” and furthermore “the consequences for the promotion of plurality of the media in the State of intervening to prevent the media merger or attaching conditions to the approval of the media merger”.
However, the Act does not specify any quantitative thresholds beyond which control of a given media market (or indeed across media markets) is considered unacceptable. To date all media mergers notified to the state since the passage of the 2014 have been approved by the relevant Minister for Communications/Media.
The Act also requires the Media Commission to conduct reviews of media ownership at three-year intervals, delineating media ownership and assessing whether the extent of diversity has improved or declined as a consequence of changes in media ownership in the preceding three year period.
Country report published in September 2023