ITV Digital, the biggest pay-TV rival to UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, has sought protection from its creditors by applying for administrators to run the business.

The move comes after the cash-strapped broadcaster failed to renegotiate its payments for rights to broadcast matches from the English Football League. The service is co-owned by commercial broadcasters Granada Media and Carlton Communications, which have suffered heavy losses from the operation.

"Our objective here is to create a viable future for the business, and not go into closure," said a spokesman. "Service to customers will continue and suppliers will continue to be paid."

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell urged the football league to continue talks to renegotiate its contracts with ITV Digital, a key part of the government's plans to switch to digital from analogue by 2010.

Closing ITV Digital would mean the loss of 1,800 jobs and leave 1.26 million customers up for grabs. Shutting down the venture would also throw into doubt the future of some of the football league's smaller teams. Its 72 clubs are owed more than $254 million.