The six-year deal that will run from 2016 to 2021 keeps the tournament out of the grasps of Sky Sports and BT Sport, who dominate coverage of domestic and European club rugby.
It’s great news for fans of the Six Nations that the championship will be staying on free-to-air television.
BBC director Barbara Slater
While all Fifa World Cup matches and European Championship matches in football are protected by Ofcom’s “Code on Sports and Other Listed and Designated Events” and must be shown free-to-air, the Rugby World Cup final is the only event in rugby union that is currently a so-called “crown jewel”.
The threat of the tournament being lost to the considerable financial clout of Sky Sports prompted BBC to seek an unlikely partnership with ITV to outbid its rival.
Under the new terms, BBC hands over the television rights to seven of the 15 matches in even years and eight in odd years to rivals ITV, who have exclusive coverage of this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Bill Beaumont, Six Nations Council chairman, welcomed the renewed commitment from both broadcasters.
“Both the BBC and ITV are committed partners of rugby, ITV with their coverage of the Rugby World Cup and the BBC with their long history of covering the RBS 6 Nations,” Beaumont said.
“We are excited to be working with them both to continue to develop the interest in the championship and to ultimately grow this wonderful game for future generations to enjoy, either as a spectator, player or volunteer.”
As part of the deal, ITV will broadcast England, Ireland and Italy’s home matches, with regional counterparts UTV and STV screening the games in Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively.
That leaves the BBC with live France, Scotland and Wales home matches, with Welsh language broadcaster S4C also continuing to broadcast Wales home matches.
The broadcaster that does not have the last match of any given weekend will screen a Sunday evening highlights show rounding up action from across the weekend.
Despite having to give up half of its Six Nations output, BBC director of sport Barbara Slater believes that the fans are the real winner of the new deal.
“It’s great news for fans of the Six Nations that the championship will be staying on free-to-air television,” Slater said.
“It’s a very special competition and our viewing figures from this year prove just how popular it is with audiences.”
The BBC enjoyed a huge boost in viewer figures on the final weekend of this year’s championship with four countries still in the hunt for the title on Super Saturday in March.
We were determined to ensure a fair financial settlement, but the need to keep the games on free-to-air channels was also a strong motivator.
WRU chairman Gareth Davies
After big wins for Wales and Ireland, almost 9.7 million viewers saw England’s thrilling win over France in the final match of the 2015 iteration, with thousands more Irish fans packed into the main stand at Scotland’s BT Murrayfield home watching the game as they waited to see their heroes crowned champions for the second time in 12 months.
Welsh Rugby Union chairman Gareth Davies, who is also Six Nations Council member, Gareth Davies, believes that the new deal – worth a reported £50 million a year – will deliver a financial boost to the union.
“I am delighted we have been able to achieve a deal which delivers the very best for Welsh rugby,” Davies said.
“The deal guarantees that the games will be available on free-to-air channels for the next six years, whilst the financial terms of the contract deliver a significant uplift which will prove of great benefit to the game in Wales.
“We already enjoy a great relationship with both the BBC and ITV which offers us great confidence that the tournament will continue to command the level of coverage it deserves.
“We were determined to ensure a fair financial settlement, but the need to keep the games on free-to-air channels was also a strong motivator.
“This is great news for all our supporters and I know this is a contract which will please all our key stakeholders.”
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