ITV'S day-time audience slumped to an all-time low on Saturday, according to unofficial figures. Its coverage of British ice hockey – shown at the same time as the Grand National on BBC1 – mustered just 300,000 viewers.
Even Channel 5, which cannot be received by the whole country, attracted 400,000 people for the omnibus edition of its Australian soap opera Home and Away. Channel 4 secured double that with a 1940s B-movie.
An ITV spokesman said: "It was a blip in the ratings for a 15-minute period, so clearly not evidence of anything significant."
Official records only go back to 1992 so it is not possible to judge whether there have been lower daytime ratings in the broadcaster's 47-year history. Certainly, late at night audiences for both BBC1 and ITV1 fall below the 100,000 mark.
ITV sources speculated that the channel might experience a similar predicament on other days when the BBC had a one-off event such as a big sports final.
More than 70 per cent of those watching television at 3.45pm on Saturday tuned in to BBC1 for the Grand National at Aintree – 8.5 million viewers watched the 15-minute race. About 5.7 million people, approximately 56 per cent of the audience, watched the build-up.
Last year, the Grand National drew 10 million viewers, although with a slightly lower share of the audience. ITV attracted 1.1 million viewers, a 9 per cent share.
There was no crowing over the figures at the BBC yesterday. In deference to the funeral service for the Queen Mother, a BBC spokeswoman said: "We are not talking about ratings victories today."Reuse content