BBC1 and ITV1 suffer as viewers find repeat-laden Christmas schedule a turn-off

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The Independent Online

Christmas viewing figures made unpleasant reading for the biggest television channels and showed people had found better things to do over the holiday than watch a schedule laden with repeats.

Christmas viewing figures made unpleasant reading for the biggest television channels and showed people had found better things to do over the holiday than watch a schedule laden with repeats.

For the first time, the two largest stations, BBC1 and ITV1, attracted less than half the total audience from 21 till 28 December as Christmas specials failed in the ratings.

ITV1's much-publicised documentary The Real Beckhams pulled in just 5.5 million, and even BBC1's Only Fools and Horses (the most popular programme on Christmas Day) attracted only 15.5 million, down nearly 5 million on its 2001 figure. Christmas Day audiences as a whole were down by more than a million to 27.2 million from 28.3 million last year, suggesting that people preferred to watch their newly acquired DVDs or to switch off the set.

The hotly anticipated final episodes of The Office, shown on BBC1 on Boxing Day and 27 December, attracted disappointing peak audiences of 6.8 million. The second series of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's comedy had been watched by up to 5.1 million on BBC2. The Queen's Speech, broadcast from Combermere barracks in Windsor, was watched by 6.5 million.

Out of 201 programmes listed in the terrestrial schedules for Christmas Day, 138 were repeats. ITV1 screened 16 repeats, compared with four last year. Ratings figures show the combined audience share of BBC1 and ITV1 fell to 49.9 per cent from 52.2 per cent last year. The biggest loser was BBC1, whose share fell by 5.45 per cent to 28.46 per cent.

ITV1 fell by 2.94 per cent to 21.47 per cent, less than the combined audience of the digital channels, which rose by 10.27 per cent to 24.69 per cent because multi-channel viewers preferred to surf the schedules.

The network had billed World Idol, the international version of the talent show Pop Idol, as a "huge entertainment event", but only 4.5 million viewers tuned in. Football was the biggest attraction outside the terrestrial channels, with the largest audiences for multi-channel television being Middlesbrough's clash with Manchester United on Sunday and Charlton Athletic's Boxing Day fixture with Chelsea.

A BBC spokesman said: "We had seven of the top 10 Christmas Day programmes on BBC1, as opposed to six last year, so we must be doing something right."

Festive flops

WORLD IDOL (ITV1)

The international Pop Idol attracted just 4.5 million.

THE REAL BECKHAMS (ITV1)

Documentary about the alternative royal family drew 5.5 million - fewer than the Queen's Speech.

CORONATION STREET (ITV1)

With an audience of only 11.8 million, The Street was soundly whipped by BBC's EastEnders, at 14.4 million.

ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES (BBC1)

Still the most watched programme, but at 15.5 million it was down 5 million on two years ago.

THE OFFICE (BBC1)

Despite all the hype, it drew just 6.8 million viewers.

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