Setanta plans sports news channel:
Setanta is to launch a sports news channel on the Virgin Media cable platform in the latest challenge to BSkyB's supremacy in pay-TV programming.
The new channel will plug the gap left by Sky Sports News, which has not been available to cable TV viewers since the beginning of March, when Sky and Virgin failed to agree terms for a new distribution deal for the former's basic channels.
Although the disappearance of high-profile Sky One shows such as Lost and 24 garnered most attention, one source close to Virgin said the company had been "surprised" at the level of customer complaints about losing Sky Sports News.
The deal also strengthens the burgeoning anti-Sky alliance between Virgin and Setanta, which are both striving to undermine the UK pay-TV market leader.
Providing top-level sports coverage, much of it live, has been a key driver in building Sky's 8.6 million subscriber base in the UK and Ireland.
Setanta's sports news channel will launch in time for the start of the football season on August 11, when the Irish group will also break Sky's virtual monopoly on live Premiership rights.
The company's sports programming will be available for purchase on satellite, cable and the BT Vision broadband service, but also on digital terrestrial platform Freeview, where Sky has so far been unable to launch a pay-TV offering including live football.
Last week Setanta agreed new pricing terms with Virgin, making its sports channels available for just £8 a month - and free to customers who take Virgin Media's XL basic TV package.
Setanta has also unveiled a new price plan for Freeview and satellite viewers, slashing the price of its sports channel offering to £9.99 a month.
On BT Vision, customers can pay £12 per month for Setanta's 46 live Premiership games, as well as other sporting fixtures including 242 Premiership games available on demand from 10pm on match day.
Separately today, Virgin's high court claim that Sky has abused its dominant position in the pay-TV market has been scheduled for trial next year.
Andrew Morritt, chancellor of the high court, formally approved a timetable under which documents will be exchanged in March, followed by a trial some months later, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Virgin has asked for first round bids from potential buyers, which could be prepared to pay as much as £11.5bn including debt.
Earlier this month, Virgin confirmed it had received an approach, understood to be from the private equity group Carlyle.
Since then, a consortium involving four private equity houses - Providence, KKR, Cinven and Blackstone - has also entered the fray, as has US buyout firm TPG.
Apax Partners is also believed to be interested in the auction, which is being conducted by Goldman Sachs.
Potential trade buyers so far mentioned are Viacom, Time Warner, John Malone's Liberty Media and US cable group Comcast.
Interested parties are being asked to submit first bids in the first 10 days of August, with second round bids likely to go in by mid-September.
Both Setanta and Virgin declined to comment.