Beleaguered television platform ITV Digital, cornered by the dragon of insolvency, could be rescued at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute by an unlikely white knight – the Seigneur of Seattle, Bill Gates.

Observers believe that Gates could be one of the “new players” hinted by Britain's culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell to be poised to rescue ITVd from a fate worse than debt. A Microsoft spokesperson, however, refused to comment on this intriguing possibility.

The software giant’s interest in principle is undisputed: eager to tout its proprietary WebTV technology, it already holds stakes in the UK’s two major cable operators NTL and Telewest. And as WAMN predicted [04-Dec-01], Gates and his cohorts now seek media footholds to boost WebTV’s expansion into ecommerce, entertainment and information distribution.

Meantime, secretary Jowell, attacked by a parliamentary opponent over the government’s inaction in the ITVd affair, told the House of Commons “There is always a risk in such ventures, especially in relation to markets built on new technology. It is precisely for this reason that I would not intervene directly on what is essentially a private matter between a company and its creditors. The government's role is to protect the wider public interest.”

Burning the midnight oil over the weekend, ITVd administrator Deloitte & Touche has already hung a ‘For Sale’ sign over the company's assets while insisting that it remains hopeful of selling the business as a going concern. Meetings with interested parties have been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday and it is rumoured that an announcement could be made as early as Wednesday.

And on Friday the platform’s programming suppliers including BSkyB, MTV, UKTV and Channel 4 agreed a stay of execution enabling ITVd to continue broadcasting through the weekend. It is said that Deloitte has sufficient funds to keep the business afloat for another week provided that key content suppliers agree to a ‘payment holiday’ until a buyer is found.

Lastly, ITVd’s owners, Carlton Communications and Granada Media, are reportedly reactivating merger negotiations. These were suspended two months back [WAMN: 27-Feb-02] after a failure to agree terms. However, discussion of the £5 billion ($7.29bn; €8.08bn) marriage may again be on the cards in an effort to cool investors' fury over the £800m-£900m the duo have poured into the ITVd black hole.

Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK), MediaGuardian (UK) and BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff