Viewing Figures are FAKE NEWS, Folks – New iPlayer Ratings Prove It

A couple of weeks ago, the BBC issued a press release showing that Doctor Who, specifically, Oxygen, sat at number 5 in its list of top-performing episodes per series. Evidently, the show is extremely popular. Figures like this are a huge relief to many Whovians, due to the constant stream of negativity in the media (“It’s mainstream media FAKE NEWS, folks! So, so disgusting…”) about the show’s success.

Over the past few years, many Doctor Who fans have worried at the consistent fall in viewing figures for episodes of the show. That decline has not faltered this year – The Lie of the Land was watched by the lowest ever number of ‘live’ viewers in the history of Doctor Who, 3.01 million (even lower than Battlefield Part One’s 3.1m). Naturally, we’re particularly sensitive to such ratings due to a certain cancellation event in 1989, which has left us with a fear that a horror like that could occur again, if ratings fall.

However, ‘as live’ viewing figures are now, quite frankly, a load of rubbish. For years, people have been watching recordings or iPlayer streams of episodes later in the evening, or the week. Until The Doctor Falls (too exciting to wait), I hadn’t watched an episode ‘live’ since Deep Breath – and that’s me, as a huge fan of the show. Millions of fans and casual viewers across the country are now choosing to watch what they want, when they want. The number of people seeing an episode of Doctor Who cannot in any way be judged from the preliminary viewing figures, as they once were. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for them to fall so low.

In 2015, Mark Gatiss, being interviewed for the Radio Times, complained about the growing obsession with ‘falling’ ratings. His words sum up my argument perfectly:

“That’s the modern world we live in and I’m not being defensive, but when you add everything together – timeshifting, plus iPlayer – [Doctor Who’s] ratings are the same as they ever were. But there is no capital in saying ‘Doctor Who’s ratings remain roughly the same’, so people make a story out of it.”

So, with Doctor Who still going strong in the UK – whether being experienced via live broadcast, iPlayer or personal recordings – and climbing to incredible heights internationally, we can reassure ourselves that there is not only still a substantial following, but an ever-growing, worldwide audience. I’ll say it right here: this is the most popular the show has ever been.

  • Rick714

    Thank you for pointing that out—I just wish more people would recognize that fact.

  • Planet of the Deaf

    The TV viewing environment has changed, but I’m not sure it’s changed that much since S8 and S9 aired, and the decline in the 7 day Consolidated figure is enough to be material, when Sherlock can still get between 9 and 11m.

    Besides the 7 day Consolidated figures include catch up viewing and iPlayer watched through a TV set (via a Smart TV App) so do partially take into account iPlayer

  • JimM

    It’s not changed that much, and because the BBC does not show how it correlates those figures (and BARB comes up with very different, lower numbers), I think we have to remain very wary of iPlayer. On top of that, iPlayer can’t tell you how many are re-watches. Also Doctor Who is commissioned for BBC-1 as a Saturday night event show. It needs to perform on the overnights! Finally, if you look at the AI for the last series, the young demographic is very low – surely if they were still watching the show there is a chance the show would be getting far better numbers? I do think a lot of this is the usual defensive strategy played to justify low ratings. Yes, we shouldn’t JUST be looking at demographics (we need to consider AI and audience overall percentage viewings on the night, which for Who weren’t bad), but we need to be careful of the smokes and mirrors of iPlayer ratings. Doctor Who has dropped, and if its not serving a family demograph anymore, then hopefully Chibnall’s tenure will be addressing that. So yes, we need to be more wary of making rash judgements, but it looks to me there could be improvements to be made. Other UK Saturday dramas haven’t dipped like Doctor Who has, I still wonder if its missing that young demographic in keeping those numbers a little higher!