ITV's shareholders will be pleased at channel's new four-year deal to broadcast England games. Viewers are not so sure
With much of the attention in the sports broadcasting world focused on BT Sport's £1bn gamble in taking on Sky Sports, ITV executives were quietly tying up a deal that will make the broadcaster the home of all England's competitive internationals for the next four years.
It means the broadcaster can market itself as the home of all England's competitive internationals, including the Euro 2016 and 2018 World Cup qualifying competitions, and avoids the need to have to tie up individual deals for away matches on a match-by-match basis, as is currently the case.
For ITV executives then, the £100m-plus deal is a cause for celebration. Judging by the reaction to date on Twitter and other social networks, viewers are not so sure.
In ratings terms, live coverage of England's home internationals was the one part of ITV's controversial over-inflated £425m joint deal with the now defunct Setanta that unquestionably worked. When Setanta went bust, it picked up the rights to home friendlies too and later extended the deal for an extra two years to take it to 2014.
Whatever the pressures on the international game, and it remains an open question just how much damage fixture overkill and the intermittent war between the biggest clubs and Fifa has done to its appeal to younger generations, live coverage of the national side remains "event" television that can be guaranteed to draw an audience even in a fragmented multichannel era.
Uefa's new format for the qualifying stages – splitting matches into nine doubler headers that will be stretched across six days over a weekend – will also increase their appeal to viewers and broadcasters.
While the World Cup and European Championship finals are listed events, meaning that they have to be shown on free-to-air TV, there is no such restriction on the qualifying stages.
But Sky has long since decided that shelling out for live England matches does not drive subscriptions in the same way as regular European and domestic club football does, and focused instead on the other home nations to fill the gaps in its schedules when international week rolls around.
Sky's deal for exclusive rights to all Scotland, Wales, Northern lreland and Republic of Ireland matches for the next four years continues the direction of travel of recent years. The deal also gives Sky an effective monopoly on the vast majority of qualifying matches involving other nations over the next four years. ITV4 can screen 20 matches involving other nations over the four-year period, while Sky will show more than 500.
Being able to consolidate all England's competitive internationals, home and away, in one place for the next four years through Uefa's new centralised sales process should please ITV's shareholders and advertisers. How fans will feel is another matter entirely.
The recent furore over the need to cut short Gabriel Clarke's interview with José Mourinho, just as it appeared the Portuguese was about to break every post-match convention in the book and actually reveal something interesting, reignited the debate about the quality of ITV's coverage.
It has been dogged in recent years by the sort of unfortunate high-profile gaffes that tend to establish the sort of reputation that is difficult to shrug off.
There was the fact that England's opening goal of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa against the USA was missed altogether by those watching in high definition and the Tic-Tac debacle of a year earlier when the broadcaster accidently switched to the ads just as Everton's Dan Gosling was breaking the deadlock deep into extra time of a Merseyside FA Cup derby.
It can't very well help its business model, but for some those incidents somehow exemplified their other recurrent frustration with ITV's coverage – the constant advertising breaks that leave little time for the in-depth analysis they have become used to elsewhere.
Others aim their ire at the talent on show, reserving particular vitriol for the largely inoffensive Andy Townsend (who has long since abandoned the tactics truck that proved such a lightning rod for criticism during that three-year sojourn when Premier League highlights were snatched by ITV). Adrian Chiles as the main anchor and Clive Tyldesley as commentator also divide opinion, to put it politely.
In truth, the pundit's sofa is one area where ITV has improved. The widespread agreement that Gary Neville has set a new bar for punditry on Sky has prompted others to up their game. Every time the insightful and engaging Lee Dixon appears onscreen he gives further credence to the theory that the BBC were mad to let him go (especially while continuing to employ some of the "golf club set" who appear to have immovable rights to occupy the Match of the Day banquette).
And though he must be wary of becoming a caricature, the straight-talking Roy Keane has been a revelation, despite (or perhaps because) of his propensity to reduce his fellow pundits to gibbering wrecks.
No matter how badly England play, and the current qualifying campaign has contained its obligatory quota of stultifying football and desperation alongside some moments of relief, viewers continue to tune in. Many appear to do so as an exercise in frustration and to give themselves something to complain about on Twitter or in the office. In that sense, maybe ITV are the perfect home for Roy Hodgson's England after all.