Christmas Day TV audiences lowest on record

Ian Jones, PA
·3-min read

2020 saw the lowest TV ratings for a Christmas Day since records began, new figures show.

The most-watched programme on December 25 last month was Call the Midwife on BBC One, with a TV audience of 8.0 million.

This is more than half a million below the 8.7 million who saw Call the Midwife in 2018, which previously held the record for the lowest ratings for a most-watched Christmas Day show.

And it was a sharp drop from the 17.1 million who saw the special episode of Gavin and Stacey that was broadcast on BBC One on December 25 2019.

The TV ratings for Christmas Day 2020 – which also included 6.7 million for BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing and 6.5 million for ITV’s Coronation Street – reflect a long-term decline in audiences driven partly by a change in viewing habits, as more people access a range of programmes on demand through platforms such as the BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub, and via streaming services such as Netflix.

SHOWBIZ ChristmasRatings
(PA graphic)

The TV audience for the most-watched show on Christmas Day 2020 was 36% below the equivalent programme in 2010 (EastEnders), down 45% compared with 2000 (Coronation Street) and down 55% compared with 1990 (Only Fools and Horses).

The full ratings for Christmas Day 2020 have been published by Barb, and include people who recorded a broadcast and watched up to seven days later.

They are treated as the official ratings for a TV programme.

Comparable figures for TV audiences date back to 1981.

They show that Christmas Day audiences remained broadly steady through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, before starting a downward trend around the turn of the century.

Only Fools and Horses has been the most-watched TV programme on December 25 a total of eight times, from 1990-1993, in 1996, and then from 2001-03.

Other Christmas Day chart-toppers have included the BBC sitcoms Just Good Friends (1986), Bread (1988) and The Vicar of Dibley (2006), ITV drama Downton Abbey (2011 and 2015), and the films Raiders of the Lost Ark (ITV in 1984) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (BBC1 in 1987).

But the biggest ever TV audience for a single Christmas Day broadcast remains the 21.8 million who saw the film ‘Crocodile’ Dundee on BBC1 in 1989.

Separate figures published by broadcasters show the growing strength of online platforms in 2020.

The BBC enjoyed a record five billion requests on iPlayer last year, with the most popular series, Normal People, requested nearly 63 million times.

The ITV Hub saw the most recent series of Love Island get over 130 million requests, while I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here had over 25 million requests.

Here are the top 10 single biggest TV audiences of Christmas week (Dec 21-27 2020), according to Barb. All figures include +1 and HD where appropriate.

1. Call The Midwife (Christmas Day, BBC One): 8.0 million
2. The Queen (Christmas Day, BBC One): 7.2 million
3. Black Narcissus (December 27, BBC One): 7.0 million
4. The Repair Shop (Boxing Day, BBC One): 7.0 million
5. Coronation Street (December 21, ITV): 6.7 million
6. BBC Weekend News (6.35pm December 27, BBC One): 6.7 million
7. Strictly Come Dancing (Christmas Day, BBC One): 6.7 million
8. Coronation Street (Christmas Eve, ITV): 6.5 million
9. Coronation Street (Christmas Day, ITV): 6.5 million
10. BBC News at Six (December 21, BBC One): 6.5 million