Group of four to take on cable

Four leading cable programmers are in talks to form a united front in the looming battle over cable carriage contracts in the UK pay-television industry.

Channel One, Live TV, Landmark Travel and Carlton Select are increasingly frustrated at attempts by cable operators to re-package or even reduce the number of channels they offer to pay-television subscribers.

The so-called retiering exercise could see some cable-exclusive channels distributed only to certain homes in the country as part of an industry- wide effort to increase penetration rates.

The exercise has already led to tension between Associated Newspapers, which owns Channel One and Performance, the arts channel, and International CableTel, which is testing new "small basic tiers" in one of its franchise areas.

According to Channel One, these new packages could see performance being distributed to fewer homes, in a move the channel believes is in breach of contract.

The new industry alliance would "look at ways we can co-operate on issues of mutual interest", a senior source at one of the channels said.

The aim would be to counter-balance the increasing power of cable distributors at a time when the industry has been going through a period of consolidation.