ITV Digital teeters on brink

 

The near-collapse of Digital television channel left the 72 football clubs in the English Football League in disarray last night after executives placed the beleaguered television company into administration.

Football League chiefs, 1.2 million television subscribers and shareholders were facing an uncertain future when the company's directors finally conceded that its financial position was untenable.

Ireland and Britain's biggest cable group, NTL, added to the sense of crisis when it admitted it was in danger of running out of cash. The developments fuelled fears that one company, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster BSkyB, would emerge as the dominant digital TV player in these islands.

ITV Digital's woes had echoes of the demise of British Satellite Broadcasting, the British government-backed satellite television service that was forced to merge with Murdoch's Sky satellite broadcaster in 1990 after failing to compete with the Murdoch-backed business.

Last night ITV Digital maintained it was "business as usual" for subscribers, and said it was hopeful of thrashing out a long-term survival plan.

Attempts to bring down the price of the crippling $447 million deal to broadcast English Football League matches - the source of its financial problems - would continue.

ITV Digital's owners, media companies Carlton and Granada, pledged to continue funding the loss-making business, which has swallowed up $1.1 billion since it was launched in 1998, for the next fortnight.

The shirt worn by Pele in the 1970 World Cup final (pictured left) yesterday the world record for a football shirt when it brought £157,750 at auction at Christie's in London. The previous record was £91,750, for Geoff Hurst's shirt worn in the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany.

Pele's shirt was put up for sale by Italian international Roberto Rosato, who swapped shirts with the Brazilian after the final whistle. Pele scored the first goal in Brazil's 4-1 triumph. It was bought by an anonymous bidder on the telephone.