Tournament organisers said they had entered into “joint long form contract discussions” with Virgin Media Television and RTÉ having agreed a joint proposal in principle.
Irish national broadcaster RTÉ lost the TV broadcast rights to the Guinness Six Nations in 2015, and since 2018 games have been shown live on Virgin Media, a commercial station.
The TV deal in the UK expired at the end of this year’s Championship and there has been speculation that the next contract could be split between two broadcasters, with some games being shown on pay TV. Amazon Prime Video is understood to be interested in screening the Six Nations having recently made its first foray into rugby by showing matches from the Autumn Nations Cup.
No update on a new television contract from the UK has been announced.
The Irish agreement is intended to cover the Men’s Guinness Six Nations, Women’s Six Nations and Men’s Under-20 tournament.
A statement from the Six Nations said: “Subject to final contractual agreements, it is envisaged that all three Championships will be shared in a balanced way which will see RTÉ again broadcast games from the Men’s Guinness Six Nations, while Virgin Media Television will diversify its coverage to include the Women’s Six Nations and Men’s Under 20’s Championships for the first time.”
Ben Morel, chief executive of Six Nations Rugby said, “I am delighted that we have agreed the principles of a unique three-party partnership with Virgin Media and RTÉ, and that they have chosen the Six Nations to build such a strong and compelling collaboration around all our competitions which will be to the benefit of our sport, our unions and of Rugby fans in Ireland.”
Philip Browne, chief executive of the Irish Rugby Football Union, said it was important that the sport retained the exposure that comes with broadcast on free-to-air television.
“Rugby is a participation sport and one that has always, and will always, strive to ensure a balance between finance and exposure,” said Browne.
“It is a win-win for all involved to have the future of all three Championships move through the contact stages with partners that have a history of showcasing our game.
“How we, and our broadcast partners, present our game is important, not only for the hear-and-now of the viewers sitting down together to watch a particular game, but for those who may be inspired to take up the ball and play in schools and clubs.”
Mick McCaffrey, head of news and sport at Virgin Media Television said: “The rapidly evolving sports landscape means it is by no means a given that world class sporting action remains on free-to-air television. This innovative collaboration is a really positive outcome for Irish rugby fans, for Irish broadcasting and for the continued growth and development of rugby across Ireland.”
Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ, added: “This agreement represents a win for the Irish public as two broadcasters come together to deliver the Six Nations tournaments free-to-air, to the widest possible audience in Ireland.”