BBC wins the Christmas ratings battle

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THE BBC yesterday claimed a comprehensive victory in the Christmas television ratings war, with seven out of the top 10 programmes.

For the second year running, Men Behaving Badly won the highest ratings on Christmas Day, attracting 13.9 million viewers, 59.9 per cent of the total audience. Last year it had 15.5 million viewers, a 70-per- cent share.

However, BBC1's overall audience share slipped by nearly 4 per cent. This Christmas, it had 42.3 per cent of viewers, compared with 46 per cent last year. ITV's share was 29.4 per cent this year.

But ITV can take some comfort from the fact that more people switched to it for the Queen's Christmas broadcast.

ITV claims that the BBC out-spends it by two-and-a-half times over the Christmas period, because it puts a higher priority on winning viewers at this time of year, thus raising its average viewing share for the whole year.

The BBC also knows it is shooting at an open goal because revenue from advertisers on ITV dries up after the first two weeks of December. Advertisers know that by then shoppers have made most of their purchasing decisions. Research also shows that people don't like advertising as much at Christmas because of "consumerism overkill".

"The ratings battle is a marathon which is not decided on one night of the year," says David Fletcher, a director of airtime buying agency CIA Medianetwork. "Christmas is a short sprint which, from a financial point of view, ITV does not have the incentive to win."

According to Mr Fletcher, the price of ITV's airtime falls by about 30 per cent over Christmas, compared with the start of December. "ITV is also harmed by tradition. There is something deep in the British psyche which makes us turn to the BBC during times of crisis and during big events."