ITV can convert huge TV audiences with the Rugby World Cup

The broadcaster has shown its commitment to international rugby, even pushing aside X Factor to give the World Cup a prime time audience. With the Six Nations coming soon too, ITV's sporting gamble could pay off says Mark Jefferies

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When it comes to ratings, all the talk in recent weeks has been about ITV and The X Factor.

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But on Friday, arguably a bigger and more important show will start, representing a multi-million pound gamble by head of ITV Peter Fincham: the Rugby World Cup.

I think his sporting gamble will be a winner.

Fincham and his director of sport Niall Sloane have not only bought the rights to rugby’s showpiece event at huge cost; they have thrown tens of millions into Six Nations rugby too.

From 2016 they will share the Six Nations rugby with the BBC for the first time, after the two channels split a contract worth around £50 million a year.

ITV’s a savvy deal, cut when the BBC needed cash urgently and not due to run out until 2021, that means ITV hold the rights to all of England’s home matches in the tournament.

This Friday, the World Cup will kick off with another game at Twickenham, when England take on Fiji.

The potential for both tournaments in terms of audience are huge, and with it comes the potential for massive money for ITV from selling advertising slots in the breaks.

In March, the BBC boasted record figures of 9.63 million for England v France in the Six Nations.

Audiences like that are perfect for ITV. With England’s other two key pool games in the World Cup – against Australia and Wales – scheduled for Saturday night prime time, big audiences are guaranteed.

ITV are confident they can ‘convert’ viewers to watching rugby on Saturday nights. They’ve even moved X Factor because of it, and it is the priority for the next two months.

On Sunday 18th October, The X Factor will follow on from two World Cup quarter-finals, meaning it should even get a leg up to help it inherit a big audience. The following week, Cowell and co will be on both nights at the weekend after a semi-final.

Then on 31st October, ITV will hope to dominate the schedule – and perhaps even get one over on Strictly – with the World Cup Final, followed by the first X Factor live show from their London studio.

If England can get that far, things will look very rosy for ITV, and audiences of 10 to 15 million will be possible.

This autumn could be the perfect revival for ITV’s sporting fortunes after losing the Champions League to BT Sport, setting them up for huge figures during the Six Nations next spring, and huge revenue from the adverts. Despite its high cost, rugby definitely seems worth a ‘try’ by ITV.

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Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor of the Daily Mirror