The FIFA World Cup was first televised in 1954 and is now the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 World Cup is estimated to be 26.29 billion. 715.2 million individuals watched the final match of this tournament (a ninth of the entire population of the planet). The 2006 World Cup draw, which decided the distribution of teams into groups, was watched by 300 million viewers.
Over 100 nations have provided wall-to-wall coverage since the communications satellite launchings allowed for worldwide coverage beginning in 1966. European coverage of the World Cup has been extensive since 1954 (though with the World Cup held in Chile in 1962, much of the Euro coverage that year was tape-delayed).
Broadcast of the qualification for the World Cup Finals for England is currently held by ITV (terrestrial, home and away matches) with Sky holding rights for home and away matches for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These were previously held by the BBC but BBC have highlights of each home nation in their respective nation so BBC Scotland show Scotland highlights, BBC Wales show Wales highlights and BBC Northern Ireland show NI highlights.
However, coverage of the World Cup Finals is on a government mandated 'protected' list meaning it must be shown on free-to-air terrestrial television (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five) as opposed to satellite or cable television. Although only one broadcaster is required, the two biggest terrestrial operators, the BBC and ITV, have always made a joint bid for coverage with broadcast of the Home Nations matches (particularly England) alternating between the broadcasters up to the later stages of the tournament. This is believed to prevent an extremely expensive bidding war for coverage between the two networks, with the current agreement running until the 2014 tournament.
In the 2006 World Cup, ITV showed two of England's three group games, with the BBC showing one. However, the BBC would then have shown England through to the final, had they made it; this would have been on an exclusive basis for the round of 16 and the quarter finals (the latter being the round where England were actually eliminated), with coverage of the semi-final and final being shared with ITV. The same method was used for the 2010 World Cup, where ITV showed the first two England games, and the BBC would have shown the next two, with England's semi final shared on both channels and the Final as well, but with England eliminated in the second round, the BBC instead had the first choice of the two quarter finals, and ITV the choice of a semi final and the third place match, with both channels showing the Final.
For the 2014 World Cup the BBC is showing England first match against Italy with ITV showing the other 2 matches against Uruguay and Costa Rica. BBC have first choice for the 2nd round while ITV have first choice quarter final so if England get to the Quarters the match should be exclusively live on ITV.
1986 marked the first time that the World Cup had extensive live cable and network television coverage in the United States. ESPN carried most of the weekday matches while NBC did weekend games.
In 1990, the World Cup was covered exclusively by cable television (TNT) in the United States and had many features of the host country (Italy).
The 1994 American coverage had many firsts: The first with all of the matches televised, the first with no commercial interruptions during live action, and the first to feature an on-screen score & time box.
In 1998, all of the matches were televised in the United States live for the first time.
The 2002 American coverage was all live as well, in spite of the games being played in Japan and South Korea, and therefore aired in the middle of the night.
Dave O'Brien joined Marcelo Balboa on the primary broadcast team for the 2006 FIFA World Cup coverage on ESPN and ABC Sports, despite having no experience calling soccer matches prior to that year. Because The Walt Disney Company, owner of both television outlets, retained control over on-air talent, the appointment of O'Brien as the main play-by-play voice was made over the objections of Soccer United Marketing, who wanted JP Dellacamera to continue in that role. Disney stated that their broadcast strategy was intended, in voice and style, to target the vast majority of Americans who do not follow the sport on a regular basis. Mispronunciation and incorrect addressing of names, misuse of soccer terminology, and lack of insight into tactics and history plagued the telecasts, resulting in heavy criticism from English-speaking soccer fans, many of whom ended up watching the games on Univision instead.