The BBC shrugged off the loss of The Great British Bake Off in 2017 to once again broadcast the most-watched TV programme of the year – with a little help from a walrus mother and her pup.
A chart-topping 14 million people saw episode one of the wildlife series Blue Planet II, which included dramatic footage of walruses fighting to find a home, along with dazzling scenes of surfing dolphins and a sex-changing fish.
The ratings were nearly two million down on the most-watched programme of 2016, when 15.9 million saw Candice Brown win the final of Bake Off. But it was enough for the BBC to hold on to its title as the home of the biggest TV audience of the year.
Second place also went to the BBC, thanks to the 13 million people who watched the final of Strictly Come Dancing. Joe McFadden and Katya Jones, winners of the 2017 series of Strictly Come Dancing (PA)
Close behind in third place was ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, which attracted an audience of 12.7 million for its launch episode.
Overall in 2017 the BBC broadcast the year’s most-watched documentary (Blue Planet II), light entertainment (Strictly Come Dancing) and live event (the One Love Manchester charity concert). But despite the BBC showing a string of high-profile dramas during the year, including Line of Duty, The Moorside and Sherlock, all were beaten in the ratings by ITV’s Broadchurch.
The last ever episode of the David Tennant-fronted crime thriller was watched by 11.6 million – the biggest audience for any TV drama in 2017.
ITV also boasted the most-watched soap opera, with Coronation Street pulling in 9.2 million viewers for an episode in June, besides averaging 7.6 million viewers across the year. An analysis of the top 40 biggest audiences of 2017 by the Press Association shows that 27 were for programmes broadcast on BBC One, including all seven episodes of Blue Planet II.
The remaining 13 were for programmes shown on ITV, including five episodes of Broadchurch. ITV’s total is up slightly on 2016, when it had nine of the top 40 biggest audiences versus 31 for BBC One. Channel 4 did not make the top 40, despite buying the rights to The Great British Bake Off.
The cookery contest delivered some of the highest ratings the station has ever seen, however. The 2017 Bake Off final was watched by 10 million – six million down on the ratings for the 2016 final on BBC One, but the fourth biggest audience in Channel 4’s 35-year history.