In an apparent slap in the face for the notorious Panorama interview with the Princess of Wales last November, the Palace has decided to hand the filming of the broadcast to ITV for two years from Christmas 1997. The BBC and ITV will then alternate every two years.
Asked if the decision was taken because of the Panorama interview - in which the Princess of Wales admitted to adultery, and also observed that the presence of Camilla Parker Bowles had made her marriage rather "crowded" - a spokesman said: "No.
"We were considering a change to the current arrangements in early 1995, which was before the Panorama programme was broadcast."
But he admitted that work had already begun on this year's broadcast, expected to be watched by some 14 million people, which was why it would remain in the hands of the BBC. Arrangements for the Queen's broadcast would be "periodically reviewed". ITV had not put pressure on the Palace for the change.
"The arrangements reflect the composition of the television and radio industries today," the spokesman said.
The Palace confirmed that the 1996 Christmas broadcast would be handled by Philip Gilbert, BBC TV's head of events programmes, the producer of the broadcasts since 1991.
In practical terms, viewers are unlikely to be aware of the change when ITV takes over: the programme has always been shown on all four channels and the BBC will continue to screen it at 3pm. But the costs of making it will in future be shared between the BBC and ITV.
The only difference will occur if ITV change the old-fashioned style of the programme, which is usually pre-recorded at Sandringham where the Royal Family spend Christmas.
The Palace spokesman said that the Royal Family was "always looking at ways of increasing the relevance of the broadcast and its presentation.
"No doubt the ITV network, and ITN in particular, who will act as producers of the broadcasts, have their own ideas to submit to the Palace."
ITV hailed the decision as a coup. Its network director, Marcus Plantin, said: "I am delighted that ITV has been given the opportunity to participate in this annual broadcast, which is so much part of the Christmas tradition in Britain and the Commonwealth."
A BBC spokeswoman said: "In the contemporary broadcasting environment, it makes sense for the leading public service broadcasters to share the responsibility and costs of broadcasts of this kind."
The first Christmas Day broadcast was made in 1932, when King George V spoke on the "wireless" to the Empire from Sandringham, using the now famous words: "I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all."
It was the start of what became, to millions throughout what is now the Commonwealth, a traditional and integral part of the Christmas celebrations.
Like her father and grandfather, the Queen broadcast her early radio messages "live", and in 1957 did so for television as well. But since 1960 the broadcasts have been prerecorded - often incorporating material recorded during the year - to allow the film (now videotape) to be sent in advance to Commonwealth countries.
It was in 1992 that she uncharacteristically used her10-minute broadcast to denounce her "annus horribilis". The confessional tone, widely derided, is today viewed by Palace officials as having been a mistake.