The BBC iPlayer saw 245 million requests in two weeks over Christmas, which was up by 16% on the festive fortnight the previous year, despite many people being largely confined to their homes. The most popular programme was EastEnders on Christmas Day, just ahead of Call the Midwife, which nevertheless had the fewest viewers on record for the top television programme on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom.
The Christmas Day episode of the long-running serial drama EastEnders was the most popular programme episode on the BBC iPlayer over the period, with 1.52 million streams. The serial was also the most popular programme, with 13.85 million streams over the fortnight. However, the programme did not even feature in the top 10 BBC programmes for Christmas week as reported by BARB.
The Christmas special of the drama Call the Midwife received 1.49 million requests, adding to the 5.43 million that watched on television on the day. BARB figures report that the programme had a total of 8.04 million viewers over seven days, making it the most popular programme of the day. Interestingly, BARB suggests that 8.03 million watched on a television set. That is 99.8% of the total, with only around 17,000 watching on some other screen, half of them on a tablet.
Even with the addition of viewers on iPlayer, Call the Midwife had the fewest viewers on record for the top programme on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom. It had that dubious distinction two years before, with an audience of 8.7 million.
So while viewers may be moving some of their viewing to the online services of broadcasters, it seems they are not doing so in sufficient numbers to compensate for the decline in television viewing. Furthermore, when they are watching them online, they are mainly doing so on their television.
The second and third most popular programme titles on the BBC iPlayer over the holiday period were the pre-school animated series Hey Duggee and Bing, with 8.03 million and 5.69 million requests respectively.
The third most popular single programme was the 2017 movie Spiderman: The Homecoming, requested by 1.46 million. That was ahead of drama seriesBlack Narcissus with 1.32 million requests and The Serpent with 1.02 million.
There were 21.2 million requests on New Year’s Day, up by 18% year on year. The day saw 7.93 million unique browsers, beating the previous record of 7.8 million on a single day set on 31 October, when further lockdown restrictions in England were announced.
Charlotte Moore, the chief content officer of the BBC, said: “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 increase in BBC iPlayer requests over the holiday period of 16% is lower than one might expect, given that the country was subject to stringent coronavirus restrictions and many viewers were a captive audience at home.