VIEWING figures for the Queen’s speech this Christmas fell to the lowest of recent times, with just 5.5 million people watching it on BBC1 and 1.5 million on ITV1.
Despite the Queen being more forthright than usual in her traditional festive broadcast this Christmas, the fall in viewers follows a well-established trend.
Appealing for tolerance and understanding between religious and cultural groups, the Queen warned that extremists threatened to wreck peace and progress in a multicultural society. She said: "Religion and culture are much in the news these days, usually as sources of difference and conflict, rather than for bringing people together. But the irony is that every religion has something to say about tolerance and respecting others."
The first speech to be broadcast across Britain, by George V, was on radio in 1932, with the first live TV screening coming in 1957.
The viewing figures, from the official Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, also revealed that the BBC soap EastEnders defeated ITV’s Coronation Street on Christmas Day, pulling in an audience of 12.3 million, compared with the Street’s 11.3 million.
But there was bad news for the terrestrial channels as the figures showed that this Christmas, for the first time ever, BBC1 and ITV1’s combined share of the television audience fell below 50 per cent, with BBC1 winning a 27.2 per cent share, compared with just 22 per cent for ITV1.
Programmes on digital, satellite and cable accounted for 29.1 per cent of the audience over Christmas week, up 20 per cent on the previous year.
Brian McNair, a professor of journalism and communications at Strathclyde University, believes that the figures fit a pattern that is almost certain to continue.
He said: "There has been a trend to move away from the main terrestrial channels in recent years.
"It does not necessarily mean that there has been a movement away from the traditional shows that feature on BBC and ITV, as Christmas editions of popular shows like the Vicar of Dibley still do well.
"Most significant is that there has been a move away from the big movie premiere being shown on terrestrial channels at Christmas.
"It used to be that most people wouldn’t have seen the films by Christmas, but with the growth of DVDs, as well as channels like Sky Movies, most people have already seen them."
Prof McNair suggests that the audience is much more fragmented than ever before.
That has been to the advantage of the BBC’s portfolio of digital channels, which achieved higher viewing figures than ever before.
BBC3 was the most-watched channel during peak time in multi-channel homes on Christmas Day. BBC4 increased its audience share by 20 per cent and was the most watched factual channel over the Christmas week.
Also, there was success for BBC3’s cult comedy Little Britain, which took up three places in the top ten programmes watched on non-terrestrial television this Christmas. It achieved its highest viewing figure on Christmas Day, with an audience of 890,000.
The only programmes on non-terrestrial television to get higher viewing figures were live football matches on Sky Sports 1, with four English Premiership matches gaining in excess of one million viewers. The most-watched festive fixture was the Newcastle-Arsenal match, with an audience of 1.65 million.
The BBC’s news channel, BBC News 24, was the most-watched news channel.