The BBC and ITV have secured a deal that will see both broadcasters become joint home of the Six Nations from 2016, keeping rugby union’s annual showpiece on free-to-air television until at least 2021.
The new deal extends BBC Sport’s long association with the tournament, allowing fans to continue to access international rugby’s biggest annual event across its platforms, while also bringing live Six Nations rugby to ITV for the first time in its history.
Under the terms of the deal, each year the BBC will show live coverage of all Scotland, Wales and France home matches, while ITV will be the home to live coverage of all England, Ireland and Italy home matches.
The channel that does not broadcast the last match of a Six Nations weekend will screen a highlights show on Sunday evenings rounding up all the action from the weekend.
Rugby’s new TV alliance between the BBC and ITV has resulted in the corporation agreeing to forego its exclusive rights to the tournament two years early, as a new deal was originally not due to kick in until 2018.
The broadcasters joined forces to keep the championship on free-to-air television, following strong interest from pay-TV operators including Sky Sports.
Commenting on the Six Nations’ new joint TV deal, BBC Director of Sport, Barbara Slater, said: “It’s great news for fans of the Six Nations that the championship will be staying on free-to-air television.
“It’s a very special competition and our viewing figures from this year prove just how popular it is with audiences.
“We very much look forward to starting our new partnership with ITV and continuing our strong relationship with RBS 6 Nations.”
Niall Sloane, ITV Director of Sport, added: “As ITV prepares to bring viewers exclusive, free-to-air live coverage of the Rugby World Cup later this year, we’re delighted to be strengthening our ties with the game by bringing audiences the first-class, live action and unique atmosphere of the RBS 6 Nations from next year.”
In addition to its TV output, BBC Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra will continue to have live commentary of all matches.
This year’s tournament, which was broadcast exclusively live on the BBC, saw audiences rise to their highest level since 2003 when a peak of 9.6m tuned in to watch England v France, and over 24m watched in total.
There were strong suggestions that the Six Nations would be heading to pay-TV after the BBC’s previous exclusive contract ended in 2017.
The competition’s board said in January it would consider offers from pay-TV operators for its next TV rights deal, which put its future on terrestrial television in doubt.
However, with Sky Sports having submitted a substantial bid to take the rights, the BBC and ITV formed an unlikely alliance to fend off the pay-TV broadcaster, with the new reportedly worth £50m.
Bill Beaumont, chairman of the Six Nations Council, said: “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.
“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.
John Feehan, chief executive of the Six Nations, added: “The RBS 6 Nations is unique, providing a rich and respected rivalry, with many or the world’s best players at the very pinnacle of their careers, playing for their countries with pride and in the right spirit.
“This agreement with two major broadcasters will ensure that all these aspects are reflected in the coverage for the fans to enjoy.”
In addition to the BBC and ITV’s coverage, Welsh language broadcaster S4C has confirmed that it will continue to simulcast all Wales matches which are shown live on the BBC, with any further rights to ITV’s live Wales matches a matter for negotiations.
S4C’s chief executive Ian Jones said: “It’s good news for audiences in Wales that the 6 Nations Championship will continue to be shown live on free-to-air TV, with Welsh language coverage on S4C.
“We’re delighted to be able to continue to work with BBC Cymru Wales whose fantastic team will produce coverage for S4C.
“At S4C we’re always interested in exploring new and different ways of bringing top level sport to our audiences, and we’re delighted to be a part of this deal which secures Welsh language free-to-air coverage on the channel for the coming years.”
Ireland retained this year’s Six Nations title on points difference and 9.63 million viewers tuned in to BBC One to watch England battle with France in the championship’s free-scoring climax, surpassing the previous record of 9.56 million when the same teams met in 2011.
The BBC Sport website also recorded its highest ever traffic, with 8.22 million unique UK browsers, beating the previous online record of 8.03 million during the London Olympics in 2012.
ITV holds the exclusive live rights to the Rugby World Cup, which is being staged in England this autumn, while the channel also broadcasts weekly highlights from the Aviva Premiership.
Details of which games from the 2016 RBS 6 Nations will be televised by the BBC and ITV can be found below.
|RBS 6 NATIONS 2016 – LIVE on BBC & ITV|
|SATURDAY 6th FEBRUARY|
|France v Italy Stade de France||14:25|
|Scotland v England Murrayfield||16:50|
|SUNDAY 7th FEBRUARY|
|Ireland v Wales Aviva Stadium||15:00|
|SATURDAY 13th FEBRUARY|
|France v Ireland Stade de France||14:25|
|Wales v Scotland Millennium Stadium||16:50|
|SUNDAY 14th FEBRUARY|
|Italy v England Stadio Olimpico||14:00|
|FRIDAY 26th FEBRUARY|
|Wales v France Millennium Stadium||20:05|
|SATURDAY 27th FEBRUARY|
|Italy v Scotland Stadio Olimpico||14:25|
|England v Ireland Twickenham||16:50|
|SATURDAY 12th MARCH|
|Ireland v Italy Aviva Stadium||13:30|
|England v Wales Twickenham||16:00|
|SUNDAY 13th MARCH|
|Scotland v France Murrayfield||15:00|
|SATURDAY 19th MARCH|
|Wales v Italy Millennium Stadium||14:30|
|Ireland v Scotland Aviva Stadium||17:00|
|France v England Stade de France||20:00|