Man Utd scores its own channel

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The Independent Online
Granada, the ITV franchise holder for the north-west of England, and Nynex CableComms, the country's second-largest cable operator, are in advanced talks aimed at launching a television channel in Manchester next year, headlined by shows on the top football team, Manchester United.

The project, which is also likely to involve the Manchester Evening News, is the latest by a leading cable operator to develop a strong regional franchise and to tap into new sources of advertising revenue. Nynex is the local cable operator in the Manchester area.

The move could see the birth of US-style local television, bringing together broadcasters, local sports teams and large media companies to create huge cross-marketing opportunities within tight-knit local communities. The partnership would broadcast special programmes on Manchester United, arguably the country's most successful football team. Insiders said an "in the boot room" feature, phone-in shows and other football programmes could trade on the huge following of players like Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs.

Manchester United has been eager to maximise revenues from its stellar brand name, which has fuelled the company's rapid growth on the stock market. The core broadcast rights to matches of the Premier League are held by BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster, and the BBC. But a range of subsidiary rights, are retained by the club itself.

Speculation has been growing that the club would launch its own channel, in advance of the introduction of pay-per-view in the UK, to exploit a market that could eventually be worth up to pounds 2.5bn a year to the top football teams. But Nynex CableComms said yesterday that no deal had been signed. It is believed Granada, which is to launch satellite services in the autumn in league with BSkyB, views cable investment as way of exploiting its programme-making capabilities.

Mirror Group has adapted the City TV concept to the UK through its Live TV subsidiary. Live TV produces a national feed from London, distributed on cable, and is negotiating to encourage local partners to provide programming. Mirror Group owns 46 per cent of the Independent.

Other ITV companies are believed to be interested in the concept. United News & Media, which owns the Meridian and Anglia franchises, has looked at Southampton, while Carlton Communications, which yesterday launched a new food channel on cable, confirmed that it had been considering the City TV concept.

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