EastEnders and Coronation Street 'driving the decline of TV audiences'

Anita Singh
The audience for EastEnders has registered a sharp decline in the past decade - PA

Britain is falling out of love with soap operas, as viewers abandon the shows that once had them gripped.

Thirty million people tuned in to watch the Christmas episode of EastEnders in 1986, when Den served Angie with divorce papers in the Queen Vic.

When Hilda Ogden bade farewell to Coronation Street a year later, an audience of 27 million tuned in.

But new figures from Ofcom show that television audiences across the board have fallen in the past decade.

“Looking at these declines by programme genre, we can see that the decreasing popularity of soaps is driving the overall decline,” the broadcasting watchdog said.

In 2007, there were 172 soap episodes that attracted ratings of over 10 million. By 2015, there were only four, and ratings have not topped 10 million since that year.

The number of episodes with an audience of eight million or more has fallen from 508 in 2007 to just 63 last year.

Soap fans must now devote more hours per week to keeping up with storylines. EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, in their earliest incarnations, were shown twice a week, with an EastEnders omnibus on Sundays for viewers who wished to catch up.

Now, EastEnders is shown four times a week and there are six weekly episodes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

Coronation Street has also moved a long way from its roots, when the biggest danger to the residents of Weatherfield was a tongue-lashing from Ena Sharples.

The soap has been criticised recently for a spate of violent storylines shown before the watershed, with more than 500 people complaining about a gangland double murder. Ofcom ruled that the scenes did not breach broadcasting guidelines,

The broadcaster’s reporting into the nation’s viewing habits also found that Saturday night entertainment shows have also contributed to the overall decline in television viewing, as the novelty of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent wears off.

In 2009, the year of Joe McElderry’s win, 17 episodes of The X Factor achieved an average audience of more than 13 million. In last year’s series, every episode fell below eight million.

ITV is hoping to halt The X Factor’s decline by revamping the line-up. Yesterday the broadcaster unveiled Robbie Williams and his wife, Ayda Field, as judges, alongside One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson. Simon Cowell is returning.