Oh dear oh dear. We’ve discussed before how the declining overnight ratings for EastEnders could risk damaging BBC One’s brand image. This year the former ratings juggernaut barely scraped into the Christmas Day top 10.
EastEnders matters to BBC One in a way that no other ongoing entertainment or drama programme does.
So what does the future hold?
It looks as if episodes will be back up to 30 minutes in length more regularly from January. This also means that EastEnders and other programmes will be starting on the hour or half hour again more often.
If the ratings don’t eventually improve, will EEs’ declining strategic importance eventually lead to changes in its scheduling or frequency?
None of this is meant as a slight on the programme’s cast, crew and writers. Though it is fair to use ratings to judge EE in a way they shouldn’t be used to decide the fate of other BBC programmes.
Yes, overnight ratings are not the judge and jury in the way they once were – iPlayer hits are hugely important too. But part of the rationale for the public service broadcaster showing a soap is that it props up the ratings for more challenging and innovative content.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if EE were the lowest-rated programme in BBC One’s Boxing Day line-up. Especially so as it followed distinctive, high-quality material which plays to the BBC’s core strengths like Around the World in Eighty Days, Death in Paradise and A Very British Scandal.
Were it not Boxing Day, the corporation could have been under fire for screening EastEnders at 10pm and displacing the news.
Yes, the show designed to build ratings was stuck away at the end of the peak time schedule. Perhaps the news would actually have rated better? A cynic may suggest that even the latest news on Covid restrictions might be more cheerful than a typical visit to Albert Square.
EastEnders’ incredible 1986 ratings will never be repeated – the world has changed.
Indeed until around 1992, EE only appeared on Christmas Day if it happened to be a Tuesday or Thursday.
So is it conceivable that in the not too distant future, extra episodes of EastEnders will not be a significant part of the BBC’s Christmas?
And what headlines does the BBC want?
BBC One triumphs in Christmas ratings? Or EastEnders Festive Flop?
There are no easy answers to this problem. All long-running series can go through difficult periods and get nursed back to health.
But this takes TLC from the very highest level.
PICTURED: shot from EastEnders Christmas Day episode. COPYRIGHT: BBC.