Ireland’s quarter-final Rugby World Cup exit brings highest ever audience to Virgin Media Television

Heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand takes spot as biggest TV event of 2023 so far with 1.378m viewers

Virgin Media Television has scored the highest viewership of its 25-year history with an average of 1.378 million people watching Ireland’s heartbreaking loss to the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup on Virgin Media One on Saturday night.

This makes it the most-watched programme of the year to date and puts it in a strong position to retain that title ahead of RTÉ's The Late Late Toy Show, which traditionally takes the number one spot.

Mick McCaffrey, head of news and sport at Virgin Media Television, said 78 per cent of the people watching television at the time tuned into the quarter-final, which ended in an emotional defeat at the Stade de France to New Zealand, with viewing peaking at 1.541 million at 9.49pm.

Mr McCaffrey had previously said he was “quietly confident” that the channel record would be broken.


The figures are compiled by research firm Nielsen and industry body TAM Ireland and are based on a representative panel of homes.

There were a further 292,800 streams on the Virgin Media Player, Mr McCaffrey wrote on social media platform X.

Before Saturday night, the most-watched programme on Irish television in 2023 had been Ireland’s Rugby World Cup pool game against South Africa, which was watched by an average of 1.22 million on RTÉ2, with a further 267,000 streams on the RTÉ Player.

Under RTÉ's joint rights agreement with Virgin Media Television to the 48-game tournament, it was agreed that Virgin would exclusively show Ireland’s quarter-final if the team made it to the knock-out stages, while RTÉ would have exclusive rights to an Ireland semi-final if it made it that far.

However, Virgin’s rival has now missed out on what would have been a bumper semi-final audience. Both broadcasters will show the final.

Virgin had already broken an eight-year viewership record earlier in the tournament when 1.19 million people watched Ireland’s final pool game against Scotland. Its previous highest audience was the 1.16 million people who watched Ireland against France in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, when the channel was known as TV3.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics