BBC maintains Christmas night lead as EastEnders wins ratings battle

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EastEnders triumphed in the head-to-head battle with Downton Abbey as BBC1 kept with tradition by coming out on top in the Christmas Day ratings.

Overnight viewing figures released yesterday show Walford proved a bigger draw than the Crawley family’s estate, with an average audience of 9.9 million compared with the ITV1 show’s 8.1 million (8.6 million including ITV1+1 viewers).

But ITV bosses were celebrating the smallest peak-time gap between the channels for at least a decade with just a 1.4 per cent difference in the share of viewers enjoyed by the two channels. ITV1 drew 29.7 per cent of the TV audience between 7pm and 10.30pm, while BBC1 had 31.1 per cent, when viewers of catch-up channel ITV1+1 are included.

The EastEnders versus Downton battle had become the key focus of this year’s Christmas schedule as the two ratings winners went up against each other at 9pm.

However, even Bates’s murder conviction and Matthew’s accepted marriage proposal to Lady Mary was not enough to bring triumph to Downton.

Coronation Street was the second most-watched show of the day with an average audience of 9.3 million, helping to boost ITV’s viewing share considerably from 2010 when it accounted for just a 22.1 per cent of peak-time viewing.

Doctor Who’s now traditional Christmas appearance took third place with 8.9 million viewers.

The BBC claimed seven of the top 10 places, although ITV said it had taken four of the top places using its preferred measurement which includes its ITV1+1 channel.

Excluding the ITV1+1 figures, BBC1 had a 30.3 per cent share of peak-time viewers, while ITV1 had 28.3 per cent.

The Queen’s Speech, broadcast by ITV1 and BBC1, had a combined audience of 8.2 million. Most viewers turned to the BBC with an audience of 6.4 million.

The return of Absolutely Fabulous proved popular – with 7.4 million viewers.

An ITV spokesman said: “ It’s a terrific achievement for ITV1 to have recorded its best peak-time Christmas performance since 2004.”