ITV, the UK’s largest terrestrial television network, yesterday unveiled its first digital sports channel, ITV Sport , in a direct challenge to sport-sated satellite rival BSkyB, controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

The fledgling channel is a key part of ITV’s strategy to expand from its free-to-air base into multichannel pay-per-view. “Football is the key driving force behind take-up of pay television,” said ITV chief executive Stuart Prebble.

ITV Sport has acquired the rights to Britain’s Football League and League Cup competitions as well as the European Champions League. The new channel will launch in August, charging subscribers £6.99 monthly.

The channel will be made available to ITV competitors, with a deal already struck with top cable operator NTL. Industry observers believe it may also be on offer to deadly rival BSkyB.

News source: Financial Times