Downton takes on Walford in TV ratings battle

Arguing about what to watch on the TV on Christmas Day is almost as traditional as mince pies and turkey dinners.

Downton Abbey Christmas 2015

This year families up and down the land will once again be fighting for control of the remote as the broadcasters have scheduled some of their biggest programmes for the holidays, including Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and the final episode of Downton Abbey, set on a fictional grand Yorkshire estate, with regular viewers used to characters murmuring familiar local place names.

Claire Hampton, curator of film and broadcast at Bradford’s National Media Museum said although the actual numbers tuning in to TV favourites on Christmas Day had declined in modern times, broadcasters still saw it as important and always screened festive editions of broad appeal favourites such as soaps, popular comedies and dramas.

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But she said in recent times there was more competition for people’s attention from everything including tablets and smart phones to video games. Many homes also have more than one screen or people tend to download programmes or watch them after they have been screened on catch-up services.

“I think that there is still a tradition,” she said when asked if families still sit in front of the box together on Christmas Day. “I think it would be interesting to know how many people are on their second screens or how many have got their tablets on.”

She said while broadcasters tended to bring out the family favourites on December 25th they often also commissioned one-off programmes to be shown over the holiday period.

This year Downton Abbey’s final episode will face stiff competition from EastEnders as it battles to go out on top in the ratings.

Viewing figures for the Christmas Day episodes of ITV’s drama has fallen with each successive year since the first special was broadcast in 2011. The costume drama will go up against the residents of Albert Square.

Downton Abbey was scheduled against the BBC One soap last year, but the Walford-set show triumphed with an overnight average of 7.5 million viewers.

Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, and Lady Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern, prepare to celebrate an unforgettable New Year’s Eve.

Butler Carson, played by Yorkshire actor Jim Carter, is philosophical about the new developments at Downton: “I hope you’re not too unhappy about the way things have turned out,” the aristocrat tells his employee in the trailer released by ITV.

“The world is a different place from the way it was, my lord, and Downton Abbey must change with it,” Carson replies.

Other favourites being screened include Doctor Who, which recorded its smallest audience ever for a Christmas Day last year, while EastEnders saw its lowest ratings for a decade.

This year EastEnders will serve up a bleak Christmas Day for one unknown Albert Square resident because it will be their last.