BBC and ITV to share Six Nations rugby coverage from 2016

Terrestrial broadcasters join forces in a five-year deal that shuts out Sky and keeps the tournament on free-to-air TV - but it's still a blow for the BBC

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The BBC and ITV have joined forces to keep the Six Nations on terrestrial television, winning the broadcast rights from next year.

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The unprecedented move has prevented Sky, which had reportedly been interested in bidding for the annual rugby clash between the home nations, from scooping up coverage when the rights became available after next year.

However, the move is still a blow for the BBC, which has always been the traditional home of the tournament.

Currently the BBC shows all the games with the live programmes anchored by John Inverdale. The Six Nations, one of the oldest sporting tournaments in the world, is not on the list of sporting events unlike Wimbledon or the FA Cup Final, which are protected by law from being taken off free-to-air terrestrial television.

The five-year deal worth a reputed £50m will last until 2021 and sees ITV given live coverage of England, Ireland and Italy home matches, while the BBC will show live coverage of Scotland, Wales and France home matches. It’s yet to be announced who will broadcast which away matches.  

BBC Director of Sport, Barbara Slater, was positive about the outcome: “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.”

The news will also come as a disappointment to Sky, which has exclusive TV rights to all the major domestic rugby in the UK.

Sky was today criticised by the chief executive of BT’s consumer division John Petter, who called on media regulator Ofcom to amend the scope of its current Digital Communications Review to include pay TV.

In a speech to the Broadcasting Press Guild, Petter criticised the lack of competition in pay TV and accused Sky of using its financial muscle to force out competitors such as BT Sport.

Currently Sky has a 64% share of the sport pay TV market and Petter claimed that media regulator Ofcom needs to revise rules whereby Sky is compelled only to provide two of its Sky Sports channels to the BT platform.

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Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 are “must carry” channels but BT is not allowed to offers its customers the other three Sky Sports channels meaning that they are unable to watch sports such as F1 racing or the Open golf championship.