The fourth series of Sherlock bowed out with an average of 5.9m viewers according to last night’s overnights.
The figure for the episode, The Final Problem, is a shade below the 6m who tuned into episode two of the latest series making it the lowest overnight audience in the show’s history.
The previous lowest-rated episode of Sherlock in the UK had been the second episode of season one, The Blind Banker, which drew an average UK audience of 6.4 million. This was eventually consolidated to 7.74m once time-shifted and iPlayer viewing was taken into account.
But the overnight audiences for the most recent episodes are considerably lower than the preceding third series which drew in an overnight audience of 9.17m to its opener, The Empty Hearse, back on 1st January 2014, with 8.83 tuning into The Sign Of Three on January 5th 2014 and 8.76 watching His Last Vow on January 12th 2014.
Meanwhile, last year’s Sherlock special The Abominable Bride had an overnight audience of 8.41m.
However BBC sources point out that both episode two and three of the most recent series had an identical audience share of 27.2% and its rating is likely to increase ”substantially” once the final, consolidated figures are available next week.
The sources also point to the fact that Sherlock was watched in more than 300 cinemas in the UK and Ireland, although BBC Worldwide was unable to provide the figures for the number of people who watched these screenings.
The BBC has declined to comment so far on the extent to which it believes the online leak of episode three may have impacted ratings.
Since the advent of the iPlayer, the trend has been for BBC programmes to increasingly consolidate to a much higher audience.
Episode one, The Six Thatchers, achieved an overnight audience of 8.1m but consolidated at 11.3 million viewers viewers, an audience share of 37.8 per cent, making it UK television’s top-rated show over the Christmas period.
The consolidated figures for episode 2 are expected to be made available this afternoon.
Last night, Sherlock also easily beat the opposition on ITV – crime drama Endeavour – which had 3.7m viewers (a 16.3% share) on the main channel between 8pm and 10pm. A further 691,000 (3% share) watched the Morse prequel on ITV HD over this period.
While it was competing with Sherlock between 9pm and 10pm, Endeavour had an overnight audience of 3.6million viewers on the main ITV channel.