Christmas Day TV ratings fall to lowest on record

BBC’s Call the Midwife topped ratings but UK audience of 9.2 million was smallest for most watched show since records began

At the end of Christmas Day it has been a longstanding tradition for families to slump – full, exhausted and surrounded by discarded wrapping paper – in front of the TV’s festive offerings.

But it seems the communal custom is dying out, with television ratings on Christmas Day last month falling to their lowest level on record.

The programme that drew the most viewers was the BBC’s Christmas special of Call the Midwife, with the drama transported to South Africa as the nuns and nurses tried to save a hospital from closing down. Although 9.2 million people tuned in, according to the consolidated ratings that include online streaming, it was the smallest audience number for the most watched show on Christmas Day since ratings began in 1981.

Heidi Thomas, the show’s creator and writer, said: “We are always so proud to be part of BBC1’s Christmas Day schedule, and absolutely delighted that so many people joined us on this year’s journey to South Africa.”

Overall, the BBC dominated the battle for Christmas ratings. BBC1 had eight of the 10 most watched shows on 25 December, while in contrast, ITV, suffering from the absence of a Downton Abbey Christmas special, had only Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the top 10.

Mrs Brown’s Boys
Mrs Brown’s Boys was the second most watched show on Christmas Day. Photograph: Alan Peebles/BBC/BBC Studios/Alan Peebles

The second most popular festive programme was the BBC comedy sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, which attracted 9 million viewers. It was followed by the Strictly Come Dancing festive special, which had an audience of 8.9 million, a testament to the show’s revived popularity this year. The Christmas episode saw the Kiss FM DJ Melvin Odoom triumph alongside his professional dance partner, Janette Manrara.

Another major draw was the Great Christmas Bake Off, as viewers watched judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, and presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, together on the BBC for the final time before the show moves to Channel 4.

This year’s Queen’s speech was watched by 7.7 million people, up from 7.2 million last year.

Seemingly gone are the days when Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death drew a viewing figure as high as 16.2 million, in 2008. Last year was only the second year on record when no programme drew more than 10 million viewers, and the viewing figures are a far cry from the 1980s, when the average audience for festive TV was 18.5 million. The single biggest Christmas TV audience in history was in 1989, when 21.8 million tuned in for the UK premiere of the film Crocodile Dundee.

Nonetheless, the BBC’s dominance of the Christmas TV ratings rounds off a successful year for the broadcaster. Thanks to the massive popularity of the Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC aired 31 of the 40 most watched television shows of 2016.

Bake Off drew 16 million viewers, including those who watched on catch-up services, while David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II had an audience of 13.1 million, making it the most watched nature programme in 15 years.

Another BBC success of the festive period was the new episode of Sherlock, which pulled in 8.1 million viewers on New Year’s Day, making it the day’s most watched show. It was also a successful night for the BBC in the United States, with the Doctor Who Christmas special breaking the record for the highest number of viewers for BBC America, a total of 1.7 million.

Christmas Day TV: the consolidated top five

  1. Call The Midwife, BBC1 (9.2 million)
  2. Mrs Brown’s Boys, BBC1 (9 million)
  3. Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 (8.9 million)
  4. The Great Christmas Bake Off, BBC1 (8.2 million)
  5. Coronation Street, ITV (8.1 million)


Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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