Soaps, Strictly and Spider-Man help BBC iPlayer break record over festive period

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
·2-min read

EastEnders, Call The Midwife and new dramas The Serpent and Black Narcissus helped BBC iPlayer break viewing records over the ‘festive fortnight’, the broadcaster has said.

The platform saw 245 million streams between December 21 2020 and January 3 2021, up by 16% on the same period last year, as millions of people were plunged into Tier 4 restrictions over the festive period, ahead of the new national lockdown.

There were 1.5 million streams of the Christmas Day episode of EastEnders, the same number as for the Call the Midwife Christmas special and the blockbuster film Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Black Narcissus, which follows a group of Anglo-Catholic nuns as they travel to a remote part of Nepal to set up a branch of their order, but are soon beset by temptation, stars Gemma Arterton and the late Dame Diana Rigg and was streamed 1.3 million times.

Meanwhile The Serpent,  based on the true story of how murderer Charles Sobhraj – who was the chief suspect in unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal – was captured, got a million streams.

New Year’s Day provided bumper numbers, with 21.2 million streams, making it the most popular new year ever on iPlayer, up 18% year-on-year.

Mrs Brown’s Boys, Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and the 2019 Gavin and Stacey Christmas special all also helped deliver big numbers.

BBC Sounds also enjoyed a strong period, with more than 45 million plays in the same fortnight, an increase of 36% compared to last year.

The most popular podcasts were Grounded with Louis Theroux, which featured new episodes with Ruby Wax and Frankie Boyle, Newscast and new sci-fi drama The Cipher starring Anya Chalotra and Chance Perdomo.

Charlotte Moore, chief content officer at the BBC, said: “The unparalleled range of programmes on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds delivered a record breaking Christmas this year.

“More people chose a personalised version of the BBC and sought out content on a scale we’ve not seen before from the breadth of entertainment and escapism available.”

The success of BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds comes after 2020 saw the lowest TV ratings for a Christmas Day since records began, reflecting 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 iPlayer or ITV Hub, and via streaming services such as Netflix.