London's underground train network and its long-suffering commuters could see new free newspaper combatants enter the fray.

Mayor Ken Livingstone, loved and loathed in equal measure, has announced the end of an exclusive distribution deal for Metro, the free daily published by Associated Newspapers.

The demise of the agreement, reportedly worth £1 million ($1.8m, €1.4m) a year to the capital's Transport for London authority, could pave the way for media magnate Richard Desmond to launch his long-threatened London afternoon freebie.

Associated's monopoly of subway and rail station distribution has been under investigation by competition regulator, the Office of Fair Trading, prompted by Desmond's fierce lobbying.

Livingstone believes the OFT is about to rule in favour of opening up distribution and says pragmatically: "It is a matter of record that other newspaper businesses would be willing to distribute a free afternoon paper and might pay even more than we are getting for the Metro deal."

Promises a Desmond henchman: "If the Metro's monopoly is broken, we will launch a free evening paper."

Associated, is apparently ready to spend up to £5m fighting such competition. It has recently launched a free, cut-down version of its 178 year-old Evening Standard, known as Standard Lite, to mop up commuters who no longer pay for newspapers.

The company, if it chose, could certainly afford to outbid former porn baron Desmond for the Mayor's afternoon newspaper contract.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff