Owners of ITV Digital prepare bid to buy soccer rights at knockdown price

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The Independent Online

Carlton and Granada are considering a bid for the rights to show Nationwide League football matches on terrestrial television from next season.

The media giants hope the crisis surrounding ITV Digital, which they co-own, will allow them to buy the rights at a knock-down price. They hope to show games of regional interest on terrestrial television.

ITV Digital was put into administration after failing to renegotiate its three-year £315m deal with the Football League. If and when it goes into liquidation or is sold, the football rights will revert to the League, which will resell them.

Carlton and Granada believe the market value will be substantially below the annual £105moriginally agreed by ITV Digital. Backed by the country's independent television stations, they hope to secure the rights for a fraction of the original cost.

One senior insider at Granada said: "This station needs football. There has been a flap about how we fill our schedules without it." Some Nationwide League games are currently screened on terrestrial television as part of the scuppered ITV Digital deal.

Sources within the Football League said it would be unwilling to sell its rights cheaply especially to Carlton and Granada. "There would be a certain amount of reluctance among our clubs, to say the least," one source said. It has been estimated that up to 30 League clubs face severe financial hardship as a result of ITV Digital's collapse.

The future for ITV Digital remains unclear, although as many as 60 prospective buyers for all or part of the failed platform have come forward since the announcement on Wednesday that it was for sale. Some are interested in buying it as a going concern, a spokeswoman for the administrators, Deloitte & Touche, said.

Yesterday Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, insisted in an emergency Commons statement that Britain's digital television revolution would not be derailed. "The hard truth is this is a failure of a company, not of a technology," she said.

"The fact ITV Digital has not succeeded will not deflect us in Government, consumers and the broadcasting industry from making a reality of a digital future," she added.