ITV Digital and League in football rights clash

ITV Digital and the Football League appear locked in a stalemate, with neither side willing to give ground in the battle to resolve the disputed £315 million TV rights.

Both parties see the deal as crucial to their respective futures and the war of words has become increasingly bitter. The Football League has reportedly threatened to ask its main sponsors not to advertise with Granada and Carlton, the platform's parent companies. They have threatened to shut the platform if the administrators do not find a solution to its funding problems.

According to Starcom Motive, the closure of ITV Digital would have a significant impact on pay-TV audiences reducing Sky's reach by 7.5 per cent and Flextech's by 8.3 per cent. This would have a dramatic effect on the ability for advertisers to build cover.

ISBA, the body that represents the interests of advertisers, thinks the closure of ITV Digital could be a double-edged sword. The director of media and advertising affairs, Bob Wootton, said it would give Granada and Carlton the opportunity to focus attention on strengthening the audiences on ITV1, but he was also concerned that it might create a Sky monopoly.

Paul Knight, the deputy head of broadcast at Manning Gottlieb OMD, said he thinks there is a future for ITV Digital, but not in its existing form.

"The Football League will get some money but I doubt it will be the lot. ITV Digital should find a partner such as Centrica or the Government should get involved in order that the analogue switch-off remains on track,

he said.

A source close to ITV Digital added: "I think they can pull it out of the bag through changing the shareholding structure or getting involved in the free-to-air alternative."

MindShare's director of investment, Nick Theakstone, predicted the survival of ITV Digital. "Everyone's hoping someone comes to the rescue. There's too much at stake for it to go under,

he said.

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