Staying true to the Six Nations
You may have noticed in my last blog entry (On radio, on TV, online) that I didn't mention the Six Nations as one of our landmarks. Some of you promptly raised questions about its future - which is the beauty of blogs - so I now want to come clean.
I didn't talk about the Six Nations because our bid for a new contract was at a critical stage, with a decision imminent. So we're delighted to announce today that we've agreed with the Six Nations that the tournament will stay with the BBC up to and including 2013.
This is a comparatively early renewal of our agreement since we have two more tournaments still to run - in 2008 and 2009. But it works well for both sides to have certainty about the future, and it allows us to continue to work with the rugby union governing bodies and the Six Nations committee to guarantee even greater success in the years ahead.
And there's no doubt about the story of recent years. We're used to television audiences edging down because of the sheer volume of competition from the rest of the media. But the Six Nations has bucked the trend. Here's the pattern this decade for average audiences:
2000... 3.7 million
So we've set new records in both of the two most recent years, and there's been a picture of growth since the whole of the tournament came back to the BBC. It's unquestionably what our audiences expect from the BBC: a total of just under 30m saw some of the 2007 tournament, and the peak audience - 8m for Ireland v England - is still higher than any figure achieved up to the quarter-final stage of the Rugby World Cup.
As I've said before in this blog, the financial outlook for us is tight because of the BBC licence fee settlement. But we believe our strategy of concentrating on the 'crown jewel' events like the Six Nations and then delivering other sport content in fresh and innovative ways is the best way forward. All of us in BBC Sport are looking forward to bringing you top international rugby well into the next decade.