Yesterday we learned that the BBC will lose it’s exclusivity of broadcasting the Six Nations, and will share coverage with ITV from 2016. The BBC has pulled out two years early from a previous agreement that ran until 2017, in a similar manner to the deal with Sky over F1.
To be honest, this seems like a sensible deal in cash-straightened times, and it’s smart that the Six Nations matches are being left on free-to-air TV. It seems likely that Sky or maybe even BT bid a higher sum, but there’s immense value to the rights being free to air. Sponsors get better coverage, and you get a new generation of viewers who are interested in the sport.
I’m still awaiting a comprehensive series of charts to fully explain to me whether the new BBC Licence Fee deal, which was rushed together in a week, is actually “cash flat”, represents a “10-12% cut by 2020”, or is “cut by 20% in real terms over five years”. [This blog posting is probably closest, suggesting a real-terms 10% fall.]
But it’s clear money is tight at the BBC, and sports rights have to be looked at sensibly. Sharing those rights with ITV seems a good win for both viewers (they stay free-to-air, and are shared as they are for World Cups and European Championships), the BBC (saves money) and ITV (gets rights to a very valuable sports commodity at a time when they’d lost FA Cup rights and Champions’ League football, and seriously needed something to fill the gap).
I’m not at all sure that this is the “body blow” that some reports would have you think. Memories are short, and at the start of the millennium, England games from the competition were actually broadcast by Sky Sports. It’s only relatively recently that the BBC has had exclusive coverage of all the games, and that they’ve been spread out over a weekend so that they don’t clash for a TV audience.