Sherlock is the most watched show on BBC iPlayer in 2014 so far

The BBC1 detective drama tops the iPlayer charts with 3.6 million views, while Top Gear's most controversial episodes also prove to be huge on demand hits

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Sherlock’s long-awaited return from the dead in series-three opener The Empty Hearse is the most watched programme on BBC iPlayer so far this year. 

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The New Year’s Day episode, in which Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective appeared to finally reveal how he had survived his leap from the roof of St Bart’s Hospital, has been watched 3.6 million times via the BBC’s on demand service.

Sherlock also sits in sixth and seventh place in this year’s current iPlayer leaderboard with episode two The Sign of Three requested 3,017,600 times and season finale His Last Vow, featuring an unexpected appearance from uber-villain Moriarty, watched 2,916,900 times.

But it was the exploits of an arguably somewhat less dashing BBC1 antihero, Jeremy Clarkson – and his co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May – that appeared to most capture online viewers’ imaginations.

Episodes of Top Gear are in second, third and fourth place in the iPlayer charts with one having been watched over 3.5 million times and the controversial Burma Special – in which Clarkson breached Ofcom rules with his use of the racially derogatory term “slope” to describe an Asian man – requested more than 3.3 million times. 

Away from such high-profile, hotly anticipated series as Top Gear and Sherlock, this year’s surprise iPlayer success was BBC3’s critically acclaimed Murdered By My Boyfriend. With 3 million views, the one-off fact-based drama about domestic violence proved a big draw online on the same night that it premiered on television. 

The first episodes of Outnumbered series five and Doctor Who series eight, which introduced Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, also ranked in the top 20 most watched, with just over 2 million views each.

With iPlayer in such demand, the BBC has announced it will extend the streaming catch-up window from seven to 30 days, giving viewers longer to watch programmes they have missed. This decision comes after research showed that BBC1’s Happy Valley saw 154,000 searches in the three weeks after it had disappeared from the On Demand service. 

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Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC said: “Extending the catch up window to 30 days now makes the best value on-demand service even better. We have a fantastic autumn schedule and the public will now have more opportunities to watch the shows they love.”