Planet Earth II most watched natural history show for 15 years

With 9.2m viewers, David Attenborough’s BBC1 documentary is already one of the most popular TV shows of the year

The opening episode of Planet Earth II was the most watched natural history programme in the UK for more than 15 years, drawing in 9.2 million viewers to BBC1 on Sunday evening.

Helped by airing immediately after Strictly Come Dancing’s results show, which had a series-high audience of 10.1 million, the David Attenborough-narrated documentary is already one of the most popular shows of the year so far in a field usually dominated by drama, sport and entertainment.

Only six series have pulled in more viewers for a single episode this year: the BBC dramas Call the Midwife and Happy Valley and the entertainment shows The Great British Bake Off, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor and Strictly, which on Sunday night had a peak audience of 11 million. England’s Euro 2016 football matches and the Wimbledon men’s singles final also rated more highly.

Series two’s opener was also more popular than the first Planet Earth a decade ago, when 8.74 million viewers watched its debut and a high of 8.8 million tuned in for the fifth episode.

The feat is all the more impressive in the era of catchup TV and iPlayer - which launched in 2007 – when audiences are increasingly deciding to watch later rather than tune in live.

The team behind Planet Earth II have taken advantage of a decade’s worth of advances in technology to produce more detailed and impressive footage than its groundbreaking predecessor. The crews made 117 filming trips in 40 different countries, filming for a total of 2,089 days.

The head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit, Julian Hector, said: “Audiences love Sir David’s authenticity and the craft of the programme-makers that give us a window on the motivations of the animals. When so much is going on in the human world, that the natural world has an agenda all of its own, regardless, gives us a place to escape.”

It is not possible to accurately compare the show’s audience with those who watched natural history programming going back further than 15 years, as the way TV audiences are measured changed at the end of 2001. In that year another Attenborough-fronted BBC natural history programme, Blue Planet, was broadcast with an audience, under the old measurement system, of about 10 million.


Jasper Jackson

The GuardianTramp

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