Traditional television viewing on Christmas Day continues to diminish, with the top programmes attracting lower audiences than ever in the United Kingdom. For the first time we have official figures for viewing across four screens at Christmas, but they seem to do little to reduce the decline.
The most popular programme on television on Christmas Day 2018 was an episode of the BBC drama Call the Midwife, with a consolidated seven-day multiscreen audience of 8.94 million. Of those, 97.5% watched on a television set, and only 1.5% viewed on a tablet, with a further 0.5% on phones and 0.5% on computers. BARB reported that 223,156 people watched the programme on a screen other than a television. An episode of the same programme attracted a seven-day audience of 9.57 million the previous year.
Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show, a traditional family entertainment offering on BBC One, was the second most popular programme of Christmas Day and the third of the week, with a total audience of 7.65 million. Of those, 98.9% watched on a television.
The Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special that preceded it was the third most popular programme of the day and the sixth of the week, with a total audience of 7.56 million and 99.0% watching on television. The Christmas Special had a seven-day audience of 8.28 million in 2017.
Zog, an animation based on the Julia Donaldson book for children, had a total audience of just over 7.00 million, with 98.8% viewing on television.
The Christmas special of Mrs Brown’s Boys was watched by a total audience of 6.84 million, 97.7% on television, down from 9.04 million the previous year.
The BBC had six of the top ten programmes over the Christmas week, with the others all provided by episodes of the serial drama Coronation Street on ITV. The most watched of these, the first of a double episode on the last Friday of the year, was viewed by a total of 7.63 million, 98% of them on watching on television. The Christmas Day episode had a total audience of 6.82 million, 97.6% watching on television.
EastEnders on the BBC managed a total audience of only 6.48 million on Christmas Day, with 95.4% watching on television. BARB reported an audience of 136,829 watching on phones, with 129,303 on tablets and 49,961 on computers. So over 300,000 people that chose to watch the serial drama on a device other than television on Christmas Day. A total of 8.13 million watched the Christmas Day episode of EastEnders in 2017.
What is striking is the continuing decline in traditional television viewing, with the most popular programme on Christmas Day receiving the lowest audience for decades.
It is several years since we have seen a programme on Christmas Day receive a consolidated audience of over 10 million, or around one in six people in the country.
The annual message from the Queen had a combined audience of 7.1 million, across BBC One, ITV, Sky One and Sky News, compared to 7.6 million the previous year.
In 2004, a Christmas Day episode of EastEnders was watched by 12.82 million. That was down from 18.31 million in 2000. Back in 1986, a year after it began, the Christmas Day episode was watched by over half the country, attracting a combined audience of 30.15 million, of which 18.9 million watched on 25 December.
For the first time, official figures now include viewing on phones, tablets, and computers, but this hardly accounts for the decline. While there are clearly a few hundred thousand people watching the popular programmes on Christmas Day in this way, the vast majority are viewing them on a television.
No doubt the BBC will report another record month for viewing on the BBC iPlayer, but the BARB four screen figures, which include viewing on BBC iPlayer on iOS, Android and the web, do not indicate substantial audiences on these screens, in comparison to television.
The BBC reported that 1.63 million people watched the Christmas Day episode of EastEnders on the BBC iPlayer in December 2017, and that did not include viewing on Virgin Media and Sky.
Meanwhile Netflix claimed that 45 million of its 130 million accounts worldwide viewed at least 70% of its original production Bird Box within seven days of its release on 21 December 2018.