Megxit, England’s defeat and 11 minutes less TV a day: what Irish viewers watched in 2021

Toy Show victorious once more, as news audiences drop from pandemic peak

The amount of time Irish people devoted to watching television fell last year – but only by 11 minutes a day, figures compiled by research firm Nielsen for industry body TAM Ireland show.

Adults living in households with a television set watched an average of two hours and 47 minutes every day in 2021, TAM Ireland said.

This was down from two hours and 58 minutes in 2020. Amid lockdown conditions and a spike in job losses, the first year of the pandemic had seen a rise in traditional television viewing, despite competition from streaming services, but this effect waned during 2021 and was only partially offset by the return of postponed sporting events to the schedules.

The Late Late Toy Show was once again was the most-watched programme, coming out well in front with 1.707 million viewers, though the consolidated ratings from TAM Ireland/Nielsen show that it narrowly missed out on beating the record set in 2020, when its estimated viewership was 9,000 higher.

The figures include people who watched the annual RTÉ event on RTÉ One on November 26th or played back a recording, but not those who viewed it on RTÉ Player.

News and current affairs programmes, which commanded unusually high ratings in 2020, ceded ground last year to the more typically dominant genre of sport, which accounted for seven of the top 10 most-viewed programmes.

The All-Ireland football final between Tyrone and Mayo on RTÉ2 was the second most-watched programme, attracting 944,600 viewers. It just about managed to fend off the challenge of the third-placed programme, the July final of the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 championship as 941,300 people watched Italy beat England.

England’s semi-final against Denmark was fourth with 836,500 viewers, as its progress in the tournament helped compensate RTÉ for the absence of the Republic of Ireland team.

The other sporting fixtures in the top 10 were Virgin Media Television's coverage of Ireland v France in the Six Nations, which was sixth with 798,400 viewers, the eighth-placed Ireland v England game in the same competition (782,600), the ninth-placed All-Ireland hurling final between Limerick and Cork (774,200) and the All-Ireland football semi-final between Dublin and Mayo, in tenth spot with 731,400 viewers.

Apart from the Toy Show, there were only two non-sport programmes in the top 10. Oprah Winfrey’s CBS interview with Meghan and Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, drew 836,500 viewers to RTÉ2 in March, making this acquisition from US media giant ViacomCBS the fifth most-watched programme on Irish television in 2021.

News peak

The edition of RTÉ One’s Six-One news bulletin from January 5th, 2021, was in seventh place with 798,200 viewers. This was broadcast as the Government was still considering keeping schools closed after the Christmas break.

However, in a sign that public interest in the Covid-19 crisis had already peaked, this was substantially lower than the 1.066 million who watched the Six-One bulletin on December 30th, 2020 and the 1.3 million who watched the Nine O’Clock bulletin on March 17th, 2020 – the most-viewed editions for each that year.

The most-watched edition of RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock bulletin in 2021 drew 689,800 viewers on January 7th and was in 14th position, just behind the most-watched episode of The Late Late Show on January 8th, which had 695,200 viewers.

Beyond its five Six Nations games involving Ireland, Virgin Media Television’s only appearance in the list released by TAM Ireland was for I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! The return of the winter ITV show attracted an average audience of 514,400 (32nd place) on Virgin Media One on November 21st.

The most-watched episodes of RTÉ One dramas Kin, Hidden Assets and Smother were in 15th, 29th and 38th position respectively, while other notable performers for the State-owned broadcaster in 2021 included Reeling in the Years – 2010 (17th) and entertainment series Ireland’s Fittest Family (19th).

The chart excludes all Player views for both RTÉ and Virgin Media Television. When all episodes are counted the most streamed title on RTÉ Player in 2021 was Australian soap Home and Away (4.9 million streams), while Virgin’s biggest on-demand show was reality series Love Island (about 12 million).