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EastEnders wins Christmas Day television ratings battle as BBC dominates festive viewing

Viewing figures slump in the great Christmas TV turn-off - audience numbers are lowest for a decade

Viewers were left snoring over their port and cheese rather than glued to their televisions on Christmas Day, ratings figures released showed.

The number of people watching BBC and ITV flagship shows such as EastEnders and Downton Abbey plummeted on previous years. In what appears to have been a punishing festive period for television soaps, Tuesday’s EastEnders Christmas special, which saw villain Derek Branning die from a heart attack, is believed to have drawn its smallest Christmas Day audience for a decade.

The episode drew an average of 9.4 million viewers, down from 9.9 million the year before and 11.4 million in 2010. Some fans felt the show was an anti-climax, after much speculation that Branning would be murdered by another character.

On a day normally characterised by bumper ratings for television shows, frustrated audiences hit out at a lack of originality and the use of repeats across all channels. Among them was Tony Blair’s former spinner Alastair Campbell, who remarked: “Someone should do a family sitcom for next year titled ‘Why is all the Christmas telly crap?”

One viewer, Donal Barrett, remarked: “Christmas television this year was the worst ever. There were so few original programmes. There’s only so many times you can watch the Top of the Pops 1977 edition. Programmes about Morecambe and Wise are no substitute for the real Morecambe and Wise.”

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special drew 7.6 million viewers, an average of 1.6 million less than last year. Despite the waning audiences, EastEnders retained the top spot in the overnight ratings, a position it has now held for four years in a row. 

ITV lost millions of festive viewers for three of its biggest shows. The Emmerdale and Coronation Street specials were down half a million viewers each on last year, while period drama Downton Abbey saw its average audience fall by 1.3 million, according to overnight figures released by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board and Television Research Partnership. The figures do not take into account viewers who record the shows and watch them later, or those who use catch up services such as BBC iPlayer. Individual programmes are likely to see a boost when more figures are released in the new year.

Elsewhere in the festive listings, BBC2’s Christmas Eve schedule featured hours of repeats of shows, including Dad’s Army and Porridge. John Wharton, from Liverpool, said: “Christmas Eve was repeats night on BBC2. More original programming needed.”

Channel 5 faced criticism for broadcasting three programmes about the haulage company Eddie Stobart, which took up three hours of airtime.

Overnight top 10 for Christmas Day:

1 .EastEnders, BBC1 - 9.4m

2. Coronation Street, ITV1 - 8.8m

3. Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 - 7.8m

4. The Royle Family, BBC1 - 7.7m

5. Dr Who, BBC1 - 7.6m

6= Downton Abbey, ITV1 - 7.3m

6= Call The Midwife, BBC1 7.3m

8. The Queen, BBC1 - 6.3m

9. Emmerdale, ITV1 - 6.2m

10. BBC News, BBC1 - 6.1m