When the Independent Radio & Television Commission offered a national radio franchise for a commercial channel a number of submissions were made to the Commission. One of these bids was TV 3 headed at that time by Paul McGuinness (Manager of the group U 2) and Windmill Lane Studios who had already set up a news division and had won the contract to provide live television coverage of Dail Eireann proceedings. One by one their competitors withdrew from the race and in April 1989, TV 3 was awarded the contract and the consortium planned to be on the air by the summer of 1990.
The proposal initially was the TV 3 would broadcast on the new MMDS system which was being licensed at the time to bring multi - channel television to areas not cabled. This plan was reviewed when it became apparent that the MMDS system would not be in place for TV 3 to go on the air. The Minister for Communications gave TV 3 permission to broadcast on UHF.
In October 1991, the IRTC withdrew the licence from TV 3 as no start date was imminent. The IRTC readvertised the franchise but TV 3 took their case to the High Court claiming that the IRTC were wrong to withdraw the licence. Mr. Justice Blaney agreed with TV 3 and the licence was returned to chief executive James Morris but he claimed that the station had already lost thirteen million pounds by not being on the air.
In September 1995, Ulster Television decided to take a forty five per cent stake in TV 3 but exactly one year later U.T.V. pulled out of the deal leaving TV3 struggling for investors to generate the required capital to go on the air. One of the shareholders in Ulster television, CanWest Global, who held a 29.9% stake in the Northern station, entered into negotiations with TV chairman James Morris and came to the rescue of the yet to go on air station. The
based Canadian broadcaster controlled seven stations in their native country,
TV 3 and TV 4 in New Zeeland and a controlling interest in Australia's Network 10. CanWest
took UTV's share joining James Morris, Windmill Lane Pictures, U 2 manager Paul
McGuinness and accountant Ossie Kilkenny as shareholders in TV 3.
Nine years after first being awarded the licence on September 9th the TV 3 test card appeared on screen. TV 3 was launched on
September 20th 1998 from
their purposely built studio complex on an industrial estate to the west of the
city at Ballymount. At
An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D. switched on the new channel with their first
programme titled 'This Is TV 3', a comedy revolving a Dublin family being shown around TV 3's
headquarters. At 6p.m., TV 3 News fronted by Alan Cantwell and Grainne Seoige,
who had been poached from T na G, aired but TV 3 would lose the head to head
battle with RTE and in early 1999 announced that instead of their 6p.m. and
11p.m. news programmes, news bulletins would be broadcast at 5.30p.m. and and their normal news programme.
One of the early success stories on TV 3 was the weatherman they poached from 98FM, Martin King. His energetic delivery of the weather led to a shake up of RTE's weather slots. The only home produced programme on opening night was the start of a docu-comic adventure series fronted by comedians Messer’s Rooney and Tylac. Much of TV 3's early programme schedule was dominated by American imports and BBC's Eastenders. Chief Executive Rick Hetherington signed a major movie deal to guarantee the biggest releases for exclusive transmission on the new channel.
Ratings for opening night was put at 900,000 which would not be bettered until November 19th when TV 3 covered the Yugoslavia versus Ireland soccer game for which TV 3 bought the rights to and the rights to all the away matches in the European Championships. Over one million viewers tuned into TV3's coverage.