As we settle into January 2020 and continue to battle our ‘Dry January’, ‘Veganuary’ or ‘Janu-hairy’*, this is the last week we can cling on to the festivities and reflect on what Christmas TV kept us company in between naps, food, drinks and those dreaded family ‘debates’.

*Yes, that’s a Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special reference already.

Back in Barry

We couldn’t even get through the first sentence of this mailer without mentioning the hugely anticipated return of Gavin and Stacey; after 9 years of re-watching Series 1-3 and the 2008 Christmas Special, we were treated with a warm welcome from the much-loved Essex and Barry families. Reviews suggest it delivered everything that viewers wanted – and I for one, totally agree (Dawn and Pete resolving their marital dispute with a touching rendition of ‘Time After Time’ was a personal highlight).

An impressive 49.2% of all TV viewers tuned in (11.6 million) at 8.30pm on Christmas Day, which has grown to a staggering 17.1m after taking recordings and catch-up in to account. This makes it the UK’s most watched scripted TV show of the decade, topped only by sporting events and the 2010 X Factor Final (points if anyone can remember who won!).

The Queen

From 2014 to 2018, The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast had been the most-watched programme, with audiences of between 6.4m (2018) and 7.85m (2019) (it was second only to Gavin and Stacey). Its relatively stable performance over the past few years is interesting considering the overall year-on-year decline in Christmas viewing; perhaps there’s particular interest in hearing how The Queen reacts and responds to these recent tumultuous and “bumpy” years.

Dark dramas

The Guardian’s ‘It’s the most woeful time of the year…why is Christmas TV so miserable?’ suggests that the trend we’ve seen towards dark, dramatic and often deathly TV in the festive period can be tracked back to the 1986 EastEnders Christmas Special, in which “Den Watts chose Christmas Day to drop divorce papers on his wife”. And while we have often seen Christmas specials of soaps or other series characterised by tragic or shocking events, we’ve also seen the growing tradition of Christmas dramas – spearheaded by the BBC.

This year, we could tune in to Steven Knight’s (the Peaky Blinders creator) reimaging of A Christmas Carol. Unlike any other telling of the well-known story, this adults-only version saw Scrooge (Guy Pearce) and Marley (Stephen Graham) tormented by their own (and others’) dispiriting and sinister actions. 4.7m of us tuned in for episode 1, a little more than last year’s song-free Les Misérables (4.5m); and although viewing fell to 3.34m for episode 2, Deadline reports it had a higher-than-average share of viewing at 9pm for BBC One.

Disney dominates film

Would it be Christmas without a Disney film? Apparently not for many, as Disney and Pixar often feature in the top 10 Christmas viewing: Toy Story 3 (6.3m in 2013), Brave (5.5m in 2015), Frozen (4.7m in 2016), The Jungle Book (5.2m in 2018) and Finding Dory (3.99m in 2019). From Warner Bros. Media, the much beloved Paddington 2 entertained and warmed the hearts of 6.2m (consolidated 7-day viewing) since its Boxing Day broadcast.

Not forgetting Netflix

With linear viewing at Christmas in steady decline year-on-year (for reference, the most successful ever show was Only Fools and Horses in 1996 at 24.25m!), we must also consider what people were watching elsewhere. As we know, Netflix keep their viewing figures close to their chest, so it’s hard to comment on their performance – but it looks like it’s been a very successful December for them. Impressively, two highly anticipated series released in mid-December manage to feature in Netflix’s most successful series of 2019 – The Witcher is ranked 2nd and You (S2) is 5th. For true-crime fans, Don’t F*** With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer set tongues wagging, while movie-wise, Oscar-hopeful Marriage Story made an impact on both critics and audiences alike (plus the meme world!)


So what have we learnt? First, Christmas TV doesn’t appear to be dying; it just needs the right shows to get us all watching. Second, it seems as though the BBC, and perhaps Netflix too, have come out of the Christmas period with the greatest success. And lastly, consumers seem to be in the best position yet, with a huge variety of genres to choose from, as well as titles that bring generations and the nation together. (P.S. Check out some infographics on the most successful Christmas TV ever here!)


If you’d like to chat TV with us, then do get in touch!