BBC romps home in festive ratings battle

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The Independent Online
The BBC1 comedy Men Behaving Badly attracted 15.5 million viewers, making it the most popular Christmas Day television show, the BBC said yesterday.

The programme, screened at 10.20pm, involved a catalogue of Yuletide disasters for flatmates Gary and Tony, played by Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey. Their antics beat the grumblings of Victor Meldrew (actor Richard Wilson) in BBC1's One Foot In The Grave, which had 15.1 million viewers.

Some 12.4 million people tuned in to EastEnders, with the comedy sporting quiz They Think It's All Over close behind on 12 million viewers, according to provisional figures released by the BBC. The television premiere of the Jim Carey film The Mask, also on BBC1, attracted 9.9 million viewers.

The Queen's Speech was watched by 8.2 million people on BBC and 3.8 million on ITV.

On ITV, the highest viewing figure was 12.6 million people for Coronation Street.

Its second biggest attraction was an hour-long episode of Emmerdale, which attracted 9.4 million.

The BBC spent pounds 42m on its Christmas schedule this year. It traditionally invests more than ITV and it normally wins the ratings battle at Christmas hands down. Last year, for example, BBC1 alone accounted for 54 per cent of all Christmas Day viewing - more than twice the proportion of those who watched ITV.

The corporation invests so heavily at this time of year because the ratings victory it gets at Christmas picks up its average audience share for the year as a whole. It also knows that ITV is unlikely to invest so heavily because advertisers like to advertise in the run-up to Christmas before people do their Christmas shopping.

There is a marked difference in the price of air time during the last two weeks of December compared with the first weeks," says Mike Gorman, media director of Saatchi and Saatchi.

"It happens because the gift advertisers, the drinks, chocolates, fragrances and so on, want to get on air from mid-November when purchasing decisions are being made. By mid-December it is all over for them and they stop advertising."

There is also a feeling that at times of big national events, from the World Cup Finals to Royal Weddings, and including Christmas, the nation tends to turn to the BBC.

"It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy," says Mr Gorman. "There is no intrinsic reason why ITV cannot take on the BBC. But they seem to think they'll lose the ratings battle so they don't schedule their best stuff which in turn makes sure they do lose the battle."

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