Millions snub England highlights amid TV row

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The Independent Football

Only 222,000 viewers tuned in to watch highlights of England's win over Croatia despite Setanta making them available for free to digital and satellite viewers.

The Irish satellite station has come in for criticism - including chanting from England fans during the game - for failing to agree a deal with a terrestrial broadcaster for the highlights and news of the viewing figures will not help their cause.

The figures show an average of 222,000 watched the highlights shown at 11.30pm last night, peaking at 290,000, despite Setanta insisting they were available to 21 million homes via a variety of platforms.

The figures for those who watched the match live were better - an average of 1.41 million and peak of 1.55 million viewers.

Setanta has bought the rights to all England's away qualifiers and are likely to face further pressure to agree a highlights deal with the BBC or ITV for the match in Belarus on 15 October.

A Setanta spokesman told PA Sport: "Setanta always look to sell on highlights to enable fans to get what they want and from a business point of view as well.

"It cost Setanta £5m for the Croatia match but in the build-up to both the Andorra and Croatia games there was no offer they could accept that was financially viable.

"The Government has become involved in the past to try and broker a deal but did not do so this time."

A statement from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We understand the frustration felt by many supporters around this issue, and in an ideal world an arrangement would have been found to air highlights on terrestrial TV for the Andorra and Croatia matches.

"It is Government policy to ensure that key sporting events can be made available free to all television viewers, which is why major events such as the World Cup finals and the FA Cup final are protected by law.

"However, outside the protected list, sports bodies are free to decide which broadcasters to sell rights to and it is for broadcasters, not Government, to decide which sports to bid for."