The News of the World phone hacking scandal, and the paper’s subsequent closure, has seen Newsnight double its audience, compared with this time last year.
Consolidated figures from July 2010 (including catch-up viewing) show BBC2’s weeknightly current affairs programme averaging around 600,000 viewers per edition. But according to overnight figures, last week it drew an average of 1 million, reaching 1.4 million on Wednesday.
One of the biggest national news stories in recent years was always going to provide a ratings boost for news and current affairs shows, and the story’s inextricable links with high-profile stars can only have helped.
Actor and comedian Steve Coogan was in the Newsnight studio on Friday, attacking “morally bankrupt” former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan for his “risible” attempts to defend the newspaper’s illegal phone hacking practices (watch the video on BBC iPlayer).
Meanwhile, Hugh Grant’s spirited appearance on Thursday’s Question Time, following the announcement that the News of the World would be closing, drew 3.6 million, an extra 1.2 million viewers compared with this time last year. The increase is all the more impressive given that Newsnight and Question Time were covering the same story in overlapping time slots on BBC2 and BBC1, thus splitting their audience.
As Twitter discussions from Thursday evening can attest, viewers were torn as to which programme to watch, many resorting to flicking between channels.
Perhaps the strange scheduling decision that regularly pits the two BBC current affairs heavyweights against one another is something a Question Time audience member might like to raise: “Does the panel believe either Newsnight or Question Time should be rescheduled when covering stories of particular public interest?”