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ntl and ITV join forces to get partial Premier League rights

# Oct 12, 05:04 PM by Frank

UK broadcaster ITV and cable firm ntl have teamed up to challenge BSkyB for half of the rights to English Premier League soccer, a source close to the situation revealed on Wednesday. The move comes a week after ntl agreed to a merger deal with Telewest to create a unified UK cable company.

The two companies outlined their alliance in a letter sent yesterday to the chairmen of the league’s 20 constituent clubs. At the moment BSkyB pays around £340m a year for the right to televise 138 matches, although Euro regulators want to see the deal broken up to stop one broadcaster owning all the rights. The letter apparently offers an upfront guarantee of at least £170m per year for the rights to half the matches between 2007 and 2010.

The Premier League has so far forcefully resisted such a measure, arguing that the European Commission’s proposal is an unwarranted intervention in the marketplace. It has proposed splitting the rights into six packages, with up to 30 set aside for a second broadcaster.

The informal agreement is predicated on the European Commission forcing through its demand – fiercely resisted by the league – that no single broadcaster can win more than 50% of the matches up for auction. The dispute between the EC and the league is at a critical juncture, with both sides due to hold meetings in Brussels next week.

ITV and ntl plan to show most matches on a pay-TV channel, with the remainder broadcast on one of ITV’s free-to-air channels. According to Reuters, both companies declined to comment.

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