Belfast Telegraph

BBC banking on Mrs Brown in Christmas Day TV ratings war

By Ian Jones

The BBC is hoping to regain its seasonal crown from ITV this weekend when the channels go head-to-head in the traditional battle to top the Christmas Day ratings.

ITV won the contest last year with the final episode of period drama Downton Abbey, which attracted 10.9 million viewers.

With no Downton in the schedule this year, the BBC will be hoping to take back the top spot - possibly with Mrs Brown's Boys, which came first in 2013 and 2014.

Other contenders on BBC One include a 90-minute special episode of Call The Midwife and a festive edition of Strictly Come Dancing, which features the final appearance of head judge Len Goodman.

The centrepiece of ITV's Christmas night is a two-hour Maigret mystery starring Rowan Atkinson.

Both channels have lined up extended episodes of soap operas, but recent history suggests the appeal of these programmes is fading.

While EastEnders has topped the Christmas Day ratings six times since the soap began in 1985, it has not clinched first place since 2012.

Coronation Street has not topped the chart since 2000.

The BBC has a long history of winning the Christmas Day TV battle, triumphing in 26 of the past 30 years.

ITV has fought back this decade with Downton Abbey coming first in 2011 and 2015. It is unlikely that any record-breaking ratings will be set this year.

Christmas Day TV audiences have been in steady decline over the past few decades. No programme has won more than 20m viewers since 2001, and 15 million has not been reached since 2008.

When Mrs Brown's Boys topped the ratings with 9.7m viewers in 2014, it was the first time any channel had failed to get above 10m since the current system for measuring ratings began in 1981.

The biggest Christmas Day TV audience in history was recorded in 1989 when 21.8m tuned in to watch the premiere of the film Crocodile Dundee.

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