Who Won the Battle for Christmas Telly?


Every Christmas, millions of people get excited about two statistics that would normally bore them silly.

The first is the Christmas number one, which was conclusively won by the Military Wives Choir. The second is the highest rating TV show on Christmas Day, which was won by... well... nobody knows.

One wing of the broadcast industry believes it is ITV1, whose Downton Abbey was watched by 11.6m viewers, while BBC One’s Eastenders attracted 11.3m.

But these are what’s known as consolidated figures. They include people who taped the show then watched it up to seven days later. Consolidated figures have become the gold standard in TV circles in recent years as execs have noted with alarm how many viewers ‘time shift’ programming i.e. watch it when it is convenient for them, not when schedulers think they should. As much as 40% of drama viewing is time-shifted in this way so consolidated figures are often utterly different to overnights.

If you look at viewing on Christmas Day the position is reversed. 9.9m tuned in to find out who’s been stalking Phil on EastEnders, while 8.6m were riveted by the search for the Earl of Grantham’s dog in Downton Abbey.

So it was the BBC's EastEnders that got the loudest plaudits in the press e.g. “EastEnders trounces Downton Abbey in Christmas TV ratings war” (Guardian). And I suspect this is the version of history that ordinary viewers will remember, too.

Why should they care about the nuances of overnights versus consolidated viewing?

For them, it’s good to know what happened on the day. As they slumped on the sofa and the tryptophan rebound kicked in, were they watching what the majority of the nation was watching? Did they pick the best show? Did their favourite programme win on that all-important day?

With the spirit of festive goodwill still lingering over us, I’m inclined to say both channels won. They both got awesome ratings, after all.

But if you think that’s a load of humbug and I’m being too soft, tell me who you think won. Which measure is the key one? And is any of this as important as the newspapers make out anyway?

John McDonald, Planning Director