TV deadline draws near
THE UK City of Culture 2013 seems set to take advantage of a one-off chance to get up to four hours of prime time exposure on a new American TV channel every week.
‘Ireland Now,’ a free to air TV channel, will reach in excess of 34 million homes from March after being set up by MHZ Network, headed by a man who has brought more international television programming to the United States than all other networks put together.
Plans are underway to have the new channel launched in Washington DC, Dublin, Belfast and Londonderry next March and the channel bossses aim to have all agreements drawn up by October 20.
Talks are at a very advanced stage with major companies on both sides of the border, and political backing has been given at the highest levels.
Londonderry is included in the plans because of its unique position as the first ever UK City of Culture, and because one of the men spearheading the proposals in well-known local man, Tony Culley-Foster.
Mr Culley-Foster said the city has a unique opportunity for exposure across the United States, which will help boost its tourism potential and also showcase the region to potential inward investors.
The new channel will be cross-border and cross-community focus and its content will be balanced.
Having been invited to visit Londonderry, the owner of MHZ Network, Frederick Thomas was impressed by the city and believes its modern story is an untold one, which would interest many people in the USA.
Mr Culley-Foster explained that an agreement is close to being finalised which would see two hours of programming made in or about the North West broadcast every week.
The Culture Company is being offered the chance to provide two hours of content to be broadcast at prime time on Saturday evenings, and to be repeated on Sundays.
Based in the US, Mr Culley-Foster has been in negotiations with Derry City Council, The Culture Company, The Playhouse, University of Ulster, The North West Regional College and policy makers in Dublin and Belfast.
He returned to Londonderry recently as part of the preparations for the launch, accompanied by Frederick Thomas, who owns MHZ Networks, on which ‘Ireland Now’ will be broadcast.
“It was a series of positive meetings,” said Mr Culley-Foster.
“We are very hopeful that the deals can be tied up as soon as possible. In fact, Fred was so impressed by Derry and Donegal he has already promised to bring his family here for a holiday.
“Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed that he would like to represent Ireland at the USA launch of the channel in America on March 17 of next year.
“It really is a great way to market Ireland, North and South, to the entire USA,” said Mr Culley-Foster. “We have taken a North-South and Anglo Irish approach to programming.”
Mr Culley-Foster also said that, at short notice, Mr Thomas had flown his family over so they could experience the Irish welcome and visit the North West.
“He has fallen in love with this area and believes its story has to be told.”
Mr Culley-Foster said that an agreement with the cultural partnership could even see City of Culture events broadcast live across the US.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Derry,” he said.
“There will be programmes from Derry-Londonderry, Dublin and Belfast. There will be advertising and sponsorship, wherever the programme originates will also be co-branded. It really is a fantastic opportunity for Derry.
“There will be no second bite of the cherry, though, as other cities are eager to come on board.”
Mr Culley-Foster stressed that the North West can benefit from its exposure in the USA, and that Londonderry has “a unique opportunity to gain high prominence in the US, and gain access to the diaspora and an internationally-minded audience.”
It is clearly Mr Culley-Foster’s hometown that he is most determined to see featured on the schedules.
He said his attention was first drawn to the possibility of including the city when he was contacted by the Londonderry Sentinel editor, William Allen, who had attended a meeting of a media forum set up by the Culture Company. Mr Allen had suggested that Mr Culley-Foster, who features in the world’s Who’s Who and who has extensive contacts, was someone who could help reach the Londonderry diaspora in the US.
He said: “I had to sell the channel first of all as other providers have tried similar projects but with different business models. After we agreed to progress with the channel, it was easy to market Derry and the City of Culture content to Fred.”
Mr Thomas is the man behind the launch of MHZ Network which broadcasts, among other international suppliers, Al Jazeera, France 24, France 2, SABC, RAI, FujiSankei, France 2, and Russia Today, across the USA.
Mr Culley-Foster has worked in America since emigrating there in 1971. Since then he has built his reputation with 30 years of top-level management experience.
His work both in business and as a lobbyist has earned him Public Service Commendations from no fewer than five separate United States presidents.
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Weather for Londonderry
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 9 C
Wind Speed: 28 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 4 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North