The BBC ended up with 8 out of 10 of the top programmes broadcast on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom, when catch-up viewing is also considered. Yet the largest total audience of the day was only 7.66 million. Of those, only 2.68 million watched at the time of transmission, reflecting a continuing decline in Christmas television viewing as a shared experience.
The most viewed programme on Christmas Day 2023 was the drama Call the Midwife on BBC 1, with a total of 7.66 million viewers.
Doctor Who was the second most viewed programme that day, with a total audience of 7.49 million, of which 2.41 million watched at the time it was broadcast.
The annual message from The King was the third most viewed programme, with 6.75 million viewers on BBC 1.
For many years, informitv has tracked television viewing on Christmas Day. It was traditionally a day when availability to view was high and broadcasters could expect large audiences.
Looking back over a ten-year period, Call the Midwife has regularly been among the top programmes on Christmas Day, but the audience has been gradually declining.
The trend was broken by the BBC in 2019 with a special episode of the romantic comedy Gavin & Stacey but otherwise the top programmes on both the BBC and ITV had their lowest Christmas Day audiences to date.
Bear in mind that most of those that watched the most popular programme did not do so at the time of broadcast. The others watched later that day or within seven days, either from a recording or online. In other words, at their convenience.
Yet they nevertheless watched it within seven days of transmission. In other words, they watched it because it was broadcast on Christmas Day. They just did not necessarily organise their day around it.
However, they are more likely to have watched the The King at the time of transmission, since the annual address, although not live, is still something of a tradition in some households, in way that watching Call the Midwife is perhaps not.
The serial drama EastEnders, which could once command over 20 million viewers on Christmas Day, was viewed by a total audience of 5.45 million, but fewer than half of them watched at the time it was broadcast.
Mrs Brown’s Boys, a situation comedy, was the tenth most viewed programme on Christmas Day, with 4.07 million viewers, and only 2.02 million watching at the time of transmission. That implies that the rest actually chose to watch it rather than accepting it as the least worst option before they went to bed.
The most viewed programme over the holiday period was the New Year’s Eve Fireworks. The programme technically started at a minute to midnight, so it counts as being in 2023. It ended at 24:13, because that is how clocks work in television land.
The total audience was 11.42 million, according to BARB estimates, which is not bad for a programme after midnight. Some 8.83 million of them were watching at the time of transmission, marking the occasion as it happened. About another 1.5 million watched within 24 hours, to view it as a spectacle, or perhaps to show their children.
So television still has the ability to bring people together across the country in a way that no other medium can, with millions sharing the same experience, but just not in the same numbers as it once did.