The X Factor's first live show of the series was 1.7 million viewers down on last year - while Strictly Come Dancing was more than a million up, overnight figures show.
The ongoing ratings woes will be an unwanted present for X Factor boss Simon Cowell who is celebrating his 53rd birthday.
Although X Factor proved a bigger draw than arch rival Strictly, its 9.2 million average audience was down markedly on the first show of the live stages in 2011 which pulled in 10.9 million.
And Strictly, which screened its first live Saturday night show, enjoyed an audience of 8.7 million, compared to 7.5 million who tuned in for the equivalent show last year.
X Factor bosses will be comforted that the show was still the most watched show on British TV last night. But its share of viewers was well down on 2011, accounting for an average 40% of the available audience on Saturday night, while last year it dragged in 49%.
And its peak audience was well down too, with 12.7 million for the first live show last year, but 10.3 million this time around.
Last year The X Factor started out on top but Strictly began to race ahead as the competition went on, although the ITV1 show had won out again by the final stages.
X Factor viewers saw Christopher Maloney given a second chance as he returned to the show as the "wildcard" entry, spared by viewers' votes.
And in Strictly, Lisa Riley became a surprise star with the highest score of the night for her dancefloor debut, with notoriously difficult-to-please judge Craig Revel Horwood declaring simply "you can dance", after she showed off her cha cha cha.