Viewing of programmes on tablets through the BBC iPlayer overtook viewing on other personal computers over the holiday period in the United Kingdom. Yet the underlying trend is the overall decline in television audiences over Christmas.

Boxing Day saw BBC iPlayer viewing on tablets overtake that on computers for the first time, with over two million requests for television programmes, out of a total of 7.5 million. However, requests from computers edged ahead again on New Year’s Day, reaching nearly 3 million out of a total of 9 million requests.

There were 940,000 downloads of the iPlayer mobile and tablet apps over the festive period, many of them presumably from people who had received the devices as presents.

From December 25 to the end of the year there were 47.5 million requests for television programmes on the BBC iPlayer.

Christmas Day actually saw the fewest requests, with 5.5 million for television programmes and a further 1.4 million for radio programmes on 25 December.

The most requested programmes over Christmas were Doctor Who, with 1.96 million views, and EastEnders, with the Christmas Day edition receiving 1.6 million requests.

All these numbers exclude BBC iPlayer viewing on the Sky and Virgin Media television platforms.

The broadcast of Doctor Who received 11.14 million television viewers, with a 30% share of the available audience, while the Christmas Day edition of EastEnders was watched by to 7.95 million. The online views therefore represent a significant proportion of the audience to these programmes — around one in seven viewers.

In fact, the number of people watching EastEnders on television on Christmas Day was significantly lower than in previous years. In 2012 it was watched by 11.31 million, in 2011 by 11.33 million and in 2010 by 12.61 million. Back in 2000 the Christmas Day edition was watched by 18.31 million.

This is still a far cry from 1986, when a Christmas edition of EastEnders and its repeat was watched by a record 30.15 million viewers, or more than half the country.

While the viewing figures for BBC iPlayer and the increase in tablet viewing may seem impressive, the overall erosion of the television audience is more dramatic.

Television used to bring Britain together on Christmas Day in a shared and scheduled viewing experience, often by watching fictional dysfunctional families celebrate some form of emotional crisis.

Although some people may now be watching the same programmes on computers, tablets or smartphones, the chances are they may be using them to watch or do something else, which may not be a bad thing.