Digital satellite channel Via Digital (part of the Telef?nica group), which owns the rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and is heavily in debt, is continuing to negotiate with private-sector broadcaster Antena 3 (also part of the Telef?nica group), FORTA (Spain's federation of regional broadcasters) and state-owned RTVE over the rights to the Spanish team's matches and the final, which must by law be shown free-to-air across the country. The main channels have so far said that Via Digital's asking price - Euro 43 million if Spain fails to make it into the second round and Euro 55 million if it does make the later stages of the competition - is prohibitive. The matter has reached such a level of debate in Spain that the head of RTVE, Javier Gonzalez Ferrari, told a committee of the lower House of Parliament: "I may go down in history as the director-general who did not broadcast the 2002 World Cup, but I may also be remembered as the one who would not pay the truly extraordinary price of Euro 4.2 million per match." Mr Gonzalez Ferrari added that the TV rights to the 1998 World Cup in France cost Euro 6 million.Via Digital bought the 2002 World Cup rights for Euro 170 million in May 1999 when the audiovisual industry still believed in the pay-per-view goldmine, which, in the words of former Via Digital chief Pedro Perez, has turned out to be the ruin of the sector. At that time, RTVE turned down an offer from Kirch to acquire the TV rights for a mere USD180 million. Via Digital then renegotiated the rights with Kirch after the German group made an "error" over the exclusivity, as German channels ARD and ZDF can be picked up free by satellite viewers in Spain...

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