BSkyB and NTL are understood to have held exploratory talks aimed at formulating an informal joint bid for the Premier League's next set of football television rights.
Although the talks are understood to have stalled, they will confirm fears that the Premier League will fail to collect the £2bn that some observers had predicted it would generate for the next package.
Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, has been criticised for dividing the next set of television rights into a complex set of separate packages.
When the current contract was awarded, BSkyB paid £673m for the exclusive rights to live, top division football. It has then been free to sell its coverage on to cable companies like NTL or ONdigital, the other digital broadcaster. For the next set of rights, which will run for three years from next September, the Premier League has separated fixtures into groups such that no single broadcaster will enjoy exclusive rights.
This has raised concerns that television companies will get together behind the scenes to carve up the rights, thus precluding a series of bidding wars, which would benefit the Premier League's coffers, but not the media companies.
It is believed that BSkyB and NTL were hoping to hatch an agreement which would have seen BSkyB bid for the main package of live games and NTL acquire the right to broadcast a further 40 games on a pay-per-view basis. The companies would then share their coverage with each other.
However, it appears that the plan may have been scuppered by the deep-seated enmity between the two companies, which have clashed repeatedly in the past. Notable among the bones of contention is NTL's bitterness at the price it has to pay BSkyB for showing live matches to its cable customers.
News of the talks will concern ONdigital, which is owned jointly by media groups Carlton and Granada. ONdigital has set its sights on acquiring the pay-per-view rights on offer, but risks being frozen out of the bidding if NTL and BSkyB are able to reconcile their differences.
The Premier League is expected to announce the results of its tender process in July.Reuse content