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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence