Almanack: Ruck for TV rights

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The Independent Online
NEGOTIATIONS for the next three-year television contract to cover the Five Nations rugby championship and domestic competitions start on Wednesday.

ITV have been making a lot of noise, both about their own strengths and about what they perceive as the weaknesses of the BBC. The BBC has remained tight-lipped in the face of such provocation. Sky, too, have been officially silent. But an article in the London Evening Standard last week announcing that 'Sky make pounds 20m bid for rugby' contained an unsourced quote that was optimistic about the satellite station's chances. A Sky spokesman vigorously denied Almanack's suggestion that the little bird who cheeped to the Standard might nest in a dish.

Traditionalists - and many rugby fans are - supposedly favour the BBC. But many have been commenting this year on an allegedly rising tally of unforced errors (usually corrected by an 'actually' 30 seconds later) and cliches (most notably Nigel Starmer-Smith's randomly distributed and invariably unexplained 'might and main' in the final quarter of every match) in the Beeb's live coverage, and it is no longer the act of an out-and-out cad and bounder to suggest that ITV should be given a chance.

Almanack's prediction: a narrow win for the BBC, with Sky picking up secondary rights (and the odd live League match). Thus the RFU has two sources of income, and the way is prepared for Sky to win the prize next time.