It’s not often that Britain’s big soaps end up going out head to head, but that’s what happened yesterday evening when ITV1 scheduled an hour-long episode of Emmerdale at seven o’clock, which clashed with EastEnders on BBC1 at 7:30pm.
Might the sight of Phil Mitchell attending to Shirley’s problems prove tempting enough to lure soap fans away from the Dales and down to E11? Or would Ashley’s impending homelessness keep viewers glued to ITV? Nails were bitten, teeth were gnashed…
But in the event, the citizens of Walford emerged triumphant with an average viewership of 5.5m people (25% share), while the Dingles and their neighbours spent the final half hour of their extended episode, when the two shows were simultaneously on air, in front of a slightly smaller audience of 5.2m people.
This must have been slightly galling for the Yorkshire soap’s bosses as Emmerdale was actually outperforming EastEnders by some 300,000 viewers until its final five minutes on air, when 3m people deserted ITV in an instant… presumably in an attempt to either avoid the ads or the impending arrival of Alan Titchmarsh on Love Your Garden.
However, both soaps ended up doing comparatively badly out of last night’s overlap as each exhibited declines in their ratings from earlier in the week; EastEnders having drawn 7.7m viewers and Emmerdale 6.6m on Monday evening.
Historically these clashes have never done either soap any favours, a notable example having come in 2010 when a similar long-running episode of Emmerdale caused EastEnders to post one of its lowest ratings of that year.
So, what’ve we learned here? Well, unless you can promise viewers a tram crash, a marriage or a death, and you want to ensure healthy ratings, it’s probably best to treat soaps like you would a pair of enraged rottweilers… keep them far apart.