New hope in TV crisis

Hopes of a settlement in the ITV Digital crisis have risen after senior executives of Carlton Communications and Granada held talks with Football League officials for the first time.

Hopes of a settlement in the ITV Digital crisis have risen after senior executives of Carlton Communications and Granada held talks with Football League officials for the first time.

The discussions represent a major breakthrough in the League's struggle for the £178.5m (€289m) owed by ITV Digital for their purchase of broadcast rights, as previous negotiations have just been with the ailing companies administrators.

Granada's chairman Charles Allen and Carlton's chief executive Gerry Murphy are understood to have met senior League officials, believed to be chairman Keith Harris and chief executive David Burns.

The meeting followed yesterday's gathering of all 72 League chairmen, when Harris called on Granada and Carlton, the owners of ITV Digital, to come to the negotiating table.

This weekend could be crucial, as the £20m (€32m) set aside for the period of administration period is due to run out on Monday.

Under their £315m (€512m) contract signed with ITV Digital in June 2000, the League are due £89.25m (€144m) on August 1 and the same amount the following year.

On Wednesday night, ITV Digital's administrators withdrew an offer of £62m (€100m) plus £12m (€19.5m) for an extra year's TV rights.

Matters became increasingly bitter at Thursday's meeting at Maine Road, Manchester, when the League accused Carlton and Granada of making secret plans to put ITV Digital into administration as far back as November while at the same time making public statements expressing support for the company.

As a result, the League have complained to the Stock Exchange, the Independent Television Commission and the UK Financial Services Authority about statements made by Carlton and Granada regarding ITV Digital between November and March.

If the talks fail, then the search for a potential buyer for ITV Digital will be stepped up. If that does not succeed, the company could be liquidated which would see the broadcast rights revert to the League. But that would not stop the League suing Carlton and Granada - and they have threatened to seek £500m (€814m) damages in the courts.

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