Slump in audience for the Queen

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The Independent Online
The audience for the Queen's Christmas message has halved in 10 years, according to early figures out yesterday for the 3pm showing on BBC and ITV - the most popular slot.

This year the broadcast commanded the lowest figures since accurate statistics began. Only 14.6 million people switched on - about 2 million less than last year. Ten years ago, almost 28 million turned on their sets after lunch to listen.

The figures confirm the findings of a Harris poll, taken for the Independent and published yesterday. Asked if the message should be abolished, 54 per cent had no strong feelings one way or another. Only a third said it was an important national tradition, with 10 per cent favoring abolition.

Buckingham Palace refused to comment on the figures, but did confirm there are no plans to shelve the event, broadcast on television since 1957.

"This reflects the fact that we prefer to do other things," said Ken Livingstone MP. "Why watch something that says nothing? If the Royals showed a domestic row then people would tune in. The Queen needs a few jokes and a script writer, people think it'sboring."

Viewing figures have declined steadily since 1984. Four years ago, more than 21 million people tuned in at 3pm.

The BBC won this year's ratings war, capturing more than half of all viewers on Christmas Day. EastEnders, with 13.5 million viewers, was the most popular, while Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was expected to top the ratings, came third with 13.2 million. The BBC gained the lion's share of viewers for the Queen's message. Only 3.5 million tuned in to ITV.