Video Networks lines up deals for live sports coverage

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The Independent Online
VIDEO NETWORKS, which recently launched a video-on-demand service in north London, is to start showing live football and boxing as part of a move into sports programming.

The move comes as the group, which is backed by LVMH's Bernard Arnault, is set to secure an extra pounds 20m of equity finance to roll out its services, which are carried over BT's ADSL network.

The company has already raised pounds 50m from investors including Lord Owen, the former cabinet minister, Sir David Alliance, the founder of Coats Vyella, and Mr Arnault, who has personally invested pounds 20m. A flotation of the company is planned, possibly for next year.

Simon Hochhausen, the group's chief executive, is to announce a deal tomorrow with Universal Sports Marketing (USM), the sports rights group, which will lead to it showing football games and boxing matches live next year.

VNL Sports, a new joint venture between Video Networks and USM, will develop an interactive television channel dedicated to sports. Initially it will show recordings of top events but it is also bidding for the rights to live fixtures.

USM has struck deals with an array of rights owners, including the BBC, ESPN, ISL and Chelsea FC. Peter Lewinton, its chief executive, says the indications are that football and boxing are the most popular.

Mr Hochhausen says the venture is now in talks to start showing live games, purchasing subsidiary rights from the likes of BSkyB and Eurosport in the same way that cable television companies such as NTL and Telewest do.

The advantage of watching live games on VNL Sports will be that if viewers miss something or want to see it again, they can go back to any point in the game and continue watching it "virtually live".

Mr Lewinton says the new service will offer libraries of top sporting events from the past, such as the Ali-Frasier fights and Michael Owen's wonder goal in the last World Cup. "It will be like having the best-ever video library in your home," he says.