Marketing

Former Virgin boss Pat Kiely targets unscripted TV in new venture Bigger Stage


Bigger Stage, a new company set up and led by former Virgin Media Television boss Pat Kiely, will aim to make Ireland an international hub for unscripted television production within the “booming” audiovisual market.

Mr Kiely, who stepped down from Virgin in 2020 after 22 years, said there was “a terrific opportunity” for Irish talent to reap the benefits of high levels of industry spending fuelled by streaming services such as Netflix and Disney Plus.

Bigger Stage, which launches on Monday, will “join the dots” in unscripted television and seek to extend Ireland’s success in animation, film and TV drama to this side of the business, he said, combining production with talent management and commercial partnerships.

The Dublin-headquartered, independently owned company will develop original factual, lifestyle and studio-based programming – including “shiny floor” light entertainment formats filmed in front of an studio audience – and promote Ireland as a location for this production.

In doing so, it hopes to take advantage of a flurry of studio construction, which is expected to see up to 30 soundstages built in the Republic over the next three to four years.

Its business model will also see it both represent established and up-and-coming talent and pursue funding partnerships, including deals with advertisers, to get programmes made.

Mr Kiely has been joined in the venture by creative director Sean O’Riordan, who previously worked for London-based factual producer Betty, part of production and distribution group All3Media.

Jane Russell, founder of talent agency Outlaw, is the company’s director of talent, and will bring to Bigger Stage a roster of clients including comedian Deirdre O’Kane and broadcaster Louise McSharry. The team is completed by director of funding and partnerships Jamie Macken, previously of marketing group Core.

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Talent “on both sides of the camera” will be “at the heart” of the company, said Mr Kiely, giving the example of Grace Mulvey, who recently won the BBC’s inaugural Galton & Simpson bursary for comedy writing and is now a Bigger Stage client.

‘Phenomenal job’

Mr Kiely worked for Ballymount-based TV3 Group from the time the original TV3 channel went on air in 1998, later serving as its commercial director and then taking the managing director reins from January 2016, shortly after its sale to Virgin Media.

“The Irish industry does a phenomenal job on modest budgets. We are a country that punches way above our weight. But we have an opportunity now to face outwards. There has never been a better time for Ireland to step up and take a bigger role on the global stage,” Mr Kiely said.

Bigger Stage will open an office in the London later this month and is in talks to develop partnerships with US agencies. The company has “quite a number of projects in the pipeline”, both Irish and international, and is “keeping an eye” on how pandemic restrictions will continue to affect aspects of production.

Mr Kiely said he looked forward to engaging with industry representative group Screen Producers Ireland and State agency Screen Ireland over the coming months.

While television formats have been crossing borders for decades, a newer trend has seen the productions themselves coalesce in locations some distance from their intended market, he noted.

Before Covid-19 travel restrictions brought it back to London, for instance, the BBC’s version of US game show format The Wall was filmed in Warsaw, Poland.

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