ONdigital choice lets top guns fight TV soccer war

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The Independent Online

ONdigital has decided that capturing the Premier League's pay-per-view (PPV) television rights is its top priority.

The digital broadcaster, which is owned jointly by Carlton and Granada, has determined that the 40 games available for broadcast on PPV will represent the best value of the various packages on offer. This priority may leave BSkyB and NTL to fight for the showcase 66-game package put on offer by the Premier League.

Last week, the Premier League unveiled a tender document inviting media companies to bid for the next set of television rights. The current contract expires next season.

As well as introducing the opportunity to show PPV games, the proposals include a showcase package of 66 live games and the chance to broadcast highlights on either Saturday or Sunday night.

Under the terms of the present contract, BSkyB is the exclusive broadcaster of live top division football. However, for the next contract, the Premier League has split the rights in a bid to maximise revenue.

There has been speculation that either BSkyB, ONdigital or NTL, the cable operator, would try to put together a knock-out bid to secure the 66-game package and the PPV rights.

However, ONdigital's choice of the PPV package has increased the prospect that the media companies bidding for football's television rights will stitch up a deal between them.

Critics of the tender document - drawn up by Premier League boss Richard Scudamore and the division's 20 chairmen - say exclusive rights should have been sold to the highest bidder.

ONdigital is believed to be targeting a £2bn stock market flotation for the end of the year.

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