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Front Row digital bow to squeeze BSkyB arm

Potential deal with ONdigital in the works

LONDON — Front Row, a cable pay-per-view venture, is poised to launch on digital terrestrial TV, a move that would up the ante in its battle with Sky Box Office, satcaster BSkyB’s PPV service.

Front Row is believed to be in advanced negotiations with ONdigital, a digital terrestrial rival to BSkyB’s SkyDigital.

A deal would link Carlton and Granada, the ITV network companies that parent ONdigital, with cablers NTL and Telewest, co-owners of Front Row. The service would add about 400,000 new homes to its reach.

Front Row would occupy the unused capacity of SDN, the U.K.’s second digital terrestrial platform, which has yet to launch. The company is backed by NTL, the Welsh network S4C and ITV company United News & Media.

Front Row is being repped in the negotiations by SDN, which originally had planned to set up a PPV service with ONdigital but the discussions faltered.

SDN, which has capacity for an additional five channels — four free-to-air channels already have launched — was awarded a license for some pay TV but not pay-per-view. The Independent Television Commission, the U.K.’s commercial TV regulator, would have to approve any change.

Meanwhile, Front Row will soon expand to 40 to 50 feeds with the roll-out of digital cable in September.

Also, NTL’s agreed $13 billion takeover of Cable & Wireless Communications almost certainly will mean that Front Row will replace Sky Box Office in CWC homes. BSkyB’s contract with CWC will end in December.

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