Ratings war on the cards as ESPN charge into new ground

Mark Durden-Smith will swap bug-eating in the Australian jungle for a ratings war on the fields of Exeter and Stockport as the new presenter of ESPN's Aviva Premiership coverage. The US-owned pay sports channel are taking over from Sky as the dominant broadcaster of England's domestic league by showing 43 live matches next season including the play-off final at Twickenham in May.

The Leicester and England lock Ben Kay is hanging up his boots to take up a co-commentator's microphone alongside the former BBC man Nick Mullins, while Durden-Smith, who was the first presenter of Sky's Rugby Club magazine programme from 1996 to 2002 and more recently fronted I'm a Celebrity... Get Me out of Here, will present programmes from an "interactive" set at every top-flight ground. There will also be a highlights package every Monday evening.

ESPN is majority owned by Disney and though they have some experience broadcasting other people's coverage, they are charging gung-ho into new ground, having signed a three-year deal with Premier Rugby for the rights forfeited by Setanta.

"We will model the live match coverage on our College Game Day in the US," said the ESPN vice-president Jeroen Oerlemans. "There's a mobile set which will be on site at every ground and a lot of the fans interacting with it. They can show their banners and in the US you often see the letters ESPN used to spell out messages of support. We don't do it yet in our football coverage here but in rugby there are rivalries rather than animosity. We are making a hefty investment and it'll be very lively."

Kay's former Tigers team-mate Austin Healey will analyse the play with reporting by Welsh sports presenter Sarra Elgan, wife of the Scarlets and Ireland flanker Simon Easterby and the daughter of the Wales wing Elgan Rees. The production will be by Sunset + Vine who won awards for their cricket on Channel 4.

Sky are left with one semi-final among their 26 live Premiership matches though they have 3-D coverage to themselves. It is a long way from dog eats dog, as Sky invite their own customers to subscribe to ESPN for an additional £9 per month. On some Saturdays, Sky and ESPN will show matches back to back, and half of every weekend's Premiership fixtures will be shown live.

It represents a gamble by the clubs with their still fledgling spectator loyalty as the average supporter can now watch half his or her team's matches without leaving the living room.

But the battle for rugby's small-screen audience is intense. The BBC hold live rights to the Six Nations Championship and ITV recently extended their World Cup deal to 2015, while the Heineken Cup stays on Sky.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?