BBC and ITV face battle to halt Christmas ratings slump

Christmas Day traditionally sees the BBC and ITV battle each other for viewers, but this year the broadcasters face the added challenge of halting a festive ratings slump.

TV audiences on December 25 for some of UK’s best-known shows have dropped by over a quarter in recent years.

Doctor Who's Peter Capaldi

Doctor Who (Simon Ridgway/BBC)


On Christmas Day 2011, Coronation Street, EastEnders, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey attracted an average audience of 11.3 million.

Last year this figure had fallen to 8.2 million.

Downton Abbey’s ratings have dropped each year since its first Christmas episode in 2011, and Coronation Street’s ratings on Christmas Day last year were the lowest since 2008.

Snappa graphic showing Christmas ratings


Doctor Who recorded its smallest audience ever for a Christmas Day last year, while EastEnders saw its lowest ratings for a decade.

The BBC and ITV will be anxious to see better results this year.

ITV could win a large audience for the last episode of Downton Abbey, which is bowing out with a two-hour special on Christmas Day at 8.45pm.

BBC1 will be hoping to build on its performance last year when it enjoyed a clean sweep of the five most-watched programmes.

Topping the list was Mrs Brown’s Boys, which attracted 9.69 million viewers.

Coronation Street at Christmas

Coronation Street at Christmas (Mark Bruce)


Close behind were Call The Midwife (9.41 million), Strictly Come Dancing (8.98 million), EastEnders (8.6 million) and Doctor Who (8.28 million).

All of these programmes are on December 25 again this year.

No show is likely to come close to matching the all-time largest Christmas Day audience.

The highest ratings recorded for a single TV programme on Christmas Day is 21.4 million, set by The Mike Yarwood Show on BBC1 in 1977.

In second place is the episode of Only Fools And Horses broadcast by BBC1 on Christmas Day 2001, which was watched by 21.34 million.

Only Fools And Horses also holds third place, with an audience of 21.31 million for the episode on Christmas Day 1996.

Check out @kelliebright76 @BLuisaW @maddy_hill90 @danboy @MrDDyer rocking it! But who’s the geezer with the beard?

— BBC EastEnders (@bbceastenders) December 21, 2015


There has been only one example in the past decade of a programme getting more than 15 million viewers on Christmas Day.

This was Wallace & Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death, which was watched by 16.15 million people on BBC1 in 2008.

Since the start of this century, 50 programmes have achieved ratings of over 10 million on Christmas Day. Just over half (26) were episodes of soap operas: 19 editions of EastEnders, six of Coronation Street and one of Emmerdale.

An individual episode of a soap opera has not topped the Christmas ratings chart for more than 30 years.

The two episodes of EastEnders broadcast on Christmas Day 1986 attracted an official audience of 30.15 million, but this is the sum total for both episodes and includes people who watched the repeat on December 28.


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