ITV is to air a feature-length episode of Downton Abbey at Christmas. The broadcaster’s plans to air the special show could lead to them winning the coveted Christmas Day ratings war against the BBC, with their rivals as yet unsure what to screen head-to-head against the period drama.
The BBC may rely on EastEnders – which traditionally draws in the biggest audience – another Royle Family special, or begin airing their three-part Great Expectations series starring Ray Winstone.
There is also the possibility that ITV could air Downton Abbey at an earlier time than its usual 9pm slot for the festive special, which could result in it going up against Doctor Who in the ratings battle.
A source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: “A feature-length episode of Downton Abbey is likely to skew the figures considerably in ITV’s favour.”
A spokesperson for ITV insisted their Christmas scheduling has not yet been finalised, but added: “We are delighted that Downton Abbey will be part of ITV’s Christmas line-up.”
In previous years, ITV has beaten the BBC in Christmas Day primetime ratings just twice.
In 1999, two editions of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? topped the annual battle as the BBC struggled to fill the slot left by Only Fools and Horses, and the previous year the BBC’s screening of Titanic failed to attract as many viewers as predicted.