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Jul 26, 2018

Virgin Media could lose ITV programmes in long-running dispute | Media I The Guardian

theguardian.com

Virgin Media could lose ITV programmes in long-running dispute | Media

Mark Sweney


Virgin Media’s 4 million pay-TV customers face losing hit ITV shows including Coronation Street and Love Island as a longstanding dispute with the broadcaster comes to a head.
ITV is understood to have written to Virgin Media warning that it could remove its channels as soon as this weekend if an agreement cannot be reached.
Virgin Media and ITV have been in protracted and at times tense talks over a range of issues including the carriage of ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, video-on-demand rights and guarantees of the prominence of its programming, as cable viewers increasingly watch programmes on demand from Netflix, Amazon and broadcasters’ own streaming services.
ITV threatened Virgin Media with a channel black-out last year but delayed the decision for the arrival of Carolyn McCall, who joined from easyJet in January.
To date McCall has taken a more flexible and collaborative approach in negotiations, which are understood to be at an advanced stage.
However, Virgin Media’s decision on Sunday to remove UKTV’s 10 TV channels – a mix of free-to-air and pay stations including Dave and Gold – appears to have provided an opportunity for ITV to pressure the cable operator.
Four sources have confirmed that the letter was sent and contains an ultimatum, or threat, that ITV could remove its channels if a final deal is not signed.
In the event of a blackout it is unclear if the broadcaster would be allowed to take down its flagship channel, home to shows including X Factor, as it is a public service channel that under broadcasting regulations must be supplied to rivals.
However, channels such as ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and their high-definition variants could potentially be taken off air.
Sources say that despite the letter Virgin Media and ITV’s talks have not broken down and while they have been protracted they are now close to the point of a deal. One source described the letter as “opportunistic” but not likely to result in a breakdown in relations as has happened with UKTV.
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A spokesman for ITV declined to comment on the talks and the letter.
A Virgin Media spokesman said: “All ITV channels remain live on Virgin TV and we have no intention of removing them.”
It is understood that Virgin Media and UKTV have not held new commercial discussions since Saturday. On Sunday, UKTV’s channels were replaced with a range of channels offering shows including Suits, Designated Survivor, Britain’s Next Top Model, Deadliest Catch and sports programming.