ONdigital seeks role in TV football

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ONdigital signalled its desire yesterday to play a direct role in televising English football, perhaps in partnership with its ITV parent companies or cable operators NTL and Telewest Communications.

Executives of the digital terrestrial pay-TV group, which resells BSkyB's sports channels, believe the packages of football broadcast rights put out to tender last week by the Premier League from the autumn of 2001, are likely to see BSkyB's near-monopoly grip loosened. Those rights are expected to raise £2bn for a three-year deal compared with the £670m for the current four-year pact.

Though BSkyB is judged to be in pole position to retain broadcast rights to a package of 66 live Premier League matches, ONdigital and the cable companies are considering co-operating, possibly to try and secure rights to pay-per-view matches and internet highlights. "There's a lot of ways you can cut the Premiership rights," said one executive. "No one knows what's going to happen."

News of the tactics to secure football broadcast rights came as ONdigital reported that its subscriber base expanded to 673,000 at 31 March. That marked a 22 per cent increase since January and a fivefold jump for the year to March. "We are right on course to achieve our target of one million customers by the end of this year and two million by the end of 2002," said Stuart Prebble, ONdigital's chief executive.

The continuing decline in media and technology stocks yesterday saw Carlton shares lose an early advance to close down 7.3 per cent at 716.5p, while Granada eased 4.4 per cent to 666.5p.