Downton Abbey smashes Spooks in overnight viewer ratings

ITV1's period drama attracts almost double the audience of BBC1's spy show

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It was a controversial decision to pitch two of Britain’s biggest dramas against one another – but there was only ever going to be one winner in the overnight ratings.

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After receiving four Emmy awards at last night’s Los Angeles ceremony, there’s even more reason for Julian Fellowes and ITV to celebrate this morning, as early figures show Downton Abbey received almost double the audience of BBC1’s Spooks in the 9pm slot. 

Downton attracted an average audience of 8.9 million viewers on ITV1 and  ITV1 HD between 9pm and 10:30pm (a 31.6 per cent share) for the opening episode of the period drama’s second series. Around 700,000 of that audience chose to watch the lush programme in glorious high definition.

A further 300,000 viewers tuned in to catch up with Downton an hour later on ITV1 +1.

The figures represent the fourth best performance for the Carnival Films production on ITV1 in the overnights, but couldn’t quite live up to the season one finale, which received a whopping 10.08m average audience (a 37.49 per cent share) in November 2010.

In comparison, Spooks, which broadcast on BBC1 and BBC1 HD between 9pm and 10pm, could only muster 4.62 million viewers, a 17 per cent share of all British television viewers at that time. 

The first episode of the tenth and final series of the spy drama delivered disappointing ratings for Spooks after a long and successful run on the BBC.  Last year’s season nine opener received a much more healthy 5.58 million average audience (a 23.19 per cent share) in its usual Monday 9pm home. 

Indeed, Spooks even failed to live up to the 4.94 million (18.96 per cent share) average audience for the BBC1 and BBC1 HD Sunday 9pm slot averaged over the past 12 months.   

However, considering the might of Downton in ratings terms, for Spooks to even hold its own over four million viewers proves that the programme still has a loyal viewership who are prepared to stick with it to the end.

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Downton’s audience peaked at just over 10 million viewers for the first five minutes of the drama, enjoying a large inherited audience from the final episode of the X Factor auditions in the preceding hour.