Queen's show of faith fails to halt her ratings slide

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The Independent Online

Monarch or not, revealing your innermost beliefs is not enough when you are up against the might of mass entertainment in the race for the most prized gift of the festive season - audience share.

Monarch or not, revealing your innermost beliefs is not enough when you are up against the might of mass entertainment in the race for the most prized gift of the festive season - audience share.

The Queen's annual Christmas broadcast, praised as her most candid yet as she abandoned stiff formality to speak frankly of her Christian faith, was watched by 700,000 fewer people than last year.

Viewing figures released yesterday showed that the 10-minute speech, broadcast at 3pm on BBC1 and ITV against The Simpsons on BBC2 and Father Christmas on Channel 4, attracted 9.8 million viewers.

Despite revealing to the nation how God provided a "framework in which I try to lead my life", her personal touch failed to halt the royal ratings slide, which has taken her audience from 20 million in the 1950s to 10.5 million last year.

The broadcast, with worldwide radio and internet versions, also had a retrospective of 2000 with footage of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Prince William.

Buckingham Palace dismissed suggestions that the new approach was responsible for the sharp drop in viewing figures, pointing out that the contents of the speech were kept under a strict embargo.

"The broadcast is very much the Queen's own personal message," a spokeswoman said. "Its style varies from year to year according to her wishes. Different producers also use different styles."

The Palace was also prepared for a further ratings slip because the set pieces of the Christmas Day schedule - including film premiÿres - were meeting competition from satellite and cable. The BBC's own festive blockbuster, Titanic, was beaten into sixth placeas the two main terrestrial broadcasters competed toattract the most viewers on 25 December.

ITV had seven of the 10 highest-rated programmes during the prime-time slot between 6pm and 10pm and claimed victory by taking 40.2 per cent of audience share compared with BBC1's 39.8 per cent.

Prime-time supremacy was achieved by the commercial broadcaster for the second year running despite the absence of a big film to rival Titanic.

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