The Six Nations should be added to the government’s list of “crown jewels” to ensure it remains on free-to-air television according to the digital, culture, media and sport committee.
The DCMS has made the request because the Six Nations Council had not given a clear answer as to whether it had held discussions with the government over moving the competition from category B to A, which would guarantee it remained free-to-air.
On Thursday the BBC director general, Tony Hall, told MPs it would be “dreadful” if the Six Nations goes behind a paywall. The tender process for the next TV deal, from 2022, is set to finish imminently with Sky reportedly in the running with a £300m deal. Live coverage of Category B events can be behind a paywall, provided highlights are made available on terrestrial television. The current broadcast deal held jointly by the BBC and ITV expires next year.
On Friday the DCMS committee said the Six Nations Council had confirmed it would allow broadcasters to share rights in the tender process for 2022 onwards, opening up the possibility of a new joint BBC and ITV bid to combat Sky’s offer. BBC and ITV currently share the live rights.
The DCMS committee chair Julian Knight said: “We’re pleased that in response to our letters, Six Nations has confirmed that joint bids from broadcasters are now being considered. When we put this to Lord Hall yesterday, he confirmed that the BBC had put in a bid that would involve a sub-license with ITV.
“We welcome the BBC’s acknowledgement and thanks for the role this committee has played in the debate, including the step we’ve taken to formally request that DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden considers moving the Six Nations from Category B to Category A of listed sports. Such a move would ensure the championship remains available via free-to-air channels. We await his response.”