- Audience beats the 8.6m peak who watched last year’s corresponding fixture
- ITV’s opening day Six Nations coverage had an overall average audience of 6.4m
- Rugby union competition in last year of current FTA TV deal
Scotland’s victory over England during the opening round of rugby union’s Six Nations attracted a peak viewership of 8.7 million for UK free-to-air (FTA) broadcaster ITV.
The figure for the game beat the peak of 8.6 million who watched last year’s Six Nations clash between the two teams, which was shown on the BBC.
With Scotland clinching their first away win at Twickenham since 1983, ITV added that the audience was the highest for a Calcutta Cup match ‘for at least more than a decade’.
ITV’s opening day coverage of this year’s Six Nations, which also featured Italy versus France, was watched by an overall average audience of 6.4 million, scoring a 36 per cent audience share.
The commercial broadcaster also highlighted that its coverage was popular among younger viewers with 'almost half of 16 to 34 viewers tuning in'. This equated to an average of 46 per cent and one million, peaking with 1.3 million and 56 per cent.
The Six Nations has consistently provided strong ratings for ITV and the BBC, but this year’s tournament could prove to be its last on FTA television in full. With CVC Capital Partners on the verge of securing a minority stake in the competition, the private equity firm is reportedly seeking an improvement on the annual UK£90 million (US$124 million) rights fee currently being paid by the BBC and ITV.
A potentially lucrative switch to pay-TV has proved divisive amongst fans, but subscription networks are free to move for the Six Nations after the UK government last March refused to upgrade the tournament to the protected list of sporting events that must stay FTA.
Ahead of the Six Nations’ next rights cycle, beginning in 2022, Sky Sports has been linked with a reported UK£300 million (US$413 million) bid for the UK broadcast contract.
Meanwhile, French free-to-air network France 2 averaged 4.1 million viewers’ for France’s thrashing of Italy in their opening Six Nations game, peaking at five million, according to L'Équipe. The news outlet added that the number was lower than the 5.8 million viewers who tuned into the same matchup last year, which was played on a Sunday afternoon.