The BBC has launched a robust defence of Top Gear and Chris Evans in the face of falling ratings, saying it is “delighted” with the performance of the new series.
Overnight figures revealed that Top Gear’s second episode had lost over 1.5 million viewers compared with the series debut, although Evans’s boss countered claims that the figures were a “setback” for the new show.
“We are delighted that this was the strongest launch episode of Top Gear since 2013 with 6.4 million tuning in for the first programme of the new series,” said Alan Tyler, Acting Controller of BBC Entertainment Commissioning. “We are also thrilled that Top Gear was the most watched programme on BBC2 amongst 16-34s last week.”
The 6.4 million viewer number is from ‘consolidated’ figures, which includes people who caught up with the first episode in the first seven days after broadcast. 4.4 million watched the first show ‘live’, compared with the 2.8 million who tuned in to the second episode – although Tyler said he was satisfied with the performance of BBC2’s “biggest show of the day”.
“Last night, Chris, Matt and the team once again brilliantly led BBC2’s biggest show of the day, by some margin,” he said. “It secured a peak audience of 3.3m, and the show again remained the most requested programme on BBC iPlayer.”
Both Antiques Roadshow on BBC1 and Soccer Aid on ITV beat Top Gear’s second episode in the overnight ratings, although Evans said on Twitter that this way of counting how many people watch shows has “never been less relevant”.
Evans echoes similar sentiments from Doctor Who writer and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, who told Radio Times last year that “the ratings system is insane and iniquitous.”
Overnight figures are calculated using 5,100 households with special set-top boxes, which track what each member of the family is watching when. From those numbers, estimates for the whole viewing population can be made.
Gatiss argued that this only provides “thumbnail sketch” of the entire audience, and do not take into account viewers on services like BBC iPlayer.
The first episode of Top Gear reportedly performed poorly in the BBC’s in-house method of assessing audience appreciation. According to the Telegraph, Top Gear recorded “catastrophic” viewer feedback in the BBC’s Appreciation Index [AI], which gathers the responses of 5,000 viewers and asks them to rate a show out of 100.
The average score for BBC2 shows is around 82; Top Gear recorded 60 out of 100.
Top Gear’s rival The Grand Tour with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May meanwhile will not have to release audience figures when it launches on Amazon later this Autumn.
Top Gear will be going up against Euro 2016 from next Sunday, although the BBC’s entertainment boss said that he was excited about what was in store for the rest of the series.
Tyler said, “With lots more adventures on the way in this new series, including a continental challenge with the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a luxury car contest in Ireland, stunning review films, plenty of power laps and many more great guests taking on the all-new rallycross track, we are looking forward to Chris, Matt and the gang bringing more of the all-new Top Gear to our audiences.”
Top Gear continues next Sunday at 8pm on BBC2