Most-watched TV programmes of 2018 revealed

RTÉ dominates, but Six Nations boosts Virgin Media’s showing in Irish television ratings

Ryan Tubridy gets caught out by Late Late Toy Show guest Davy. Video: RTE One/The Late Late Toy Show

Irish adults watched television for an average of three hours and four minutes every day in 2018, a year in which RTÉ One's The Late Late Toy Show once again claimed its traditional spot at the top of the list of most-watched programmes.

Figures from industry body TAM Ireland and research firm Nielsen show that sporting fixtures accounted for half of the top 20 programmes on Irish television, down from 11 last year, with Ireland's Six Nations clash against England on TV3, now known as Virgin Media One, coming second.

However, the consolidated ratings put the annual Toy Show some distance ahead of everything else. It was watched by a total of 1,550,400 people either on the night or within seven days of the broadcast, while the rugby match secured an audience of 975,600.

This was the first in Virgin Media Television’s four-year deal for the rights to the Six Nations tournament, and it was rewarded for its outlay with a much better showing in the list of the most-watched programmes of the year.


The group, owned by telecoms group Virgin Media Ireland, had no entries in the top 20 for 2017, but in 2018 it had four, including three Six Nations matches. Ireland’s game against Scotland was watched by 729,400 people, which gave it ninth place, while the Wales game was 14th with an audience of 663,300.

The resurgence of the reality television series I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! also delivered a strong audience for Virgin Media One, with 679,300 people watching the opening episode of the series, enough for 13th place.

England’s journey

RTÉ, which still dominated the list with 16 of the top 20 programmes and 39 of the top 50, was not without its sporting triumphs either.

The rugby match between Ireland v New Zealand in the Guinness Series Live was watched by 926,600 people on RTÉ2, putting it in third place.

Perhaps surprisingly, the fourth most-watched programme was a sporting event that did not involve Ireland or any Irish team.

England’s defeat in its semi-final with Croatia in the Fifa World Cup, its first semi-final in a major soccer tournament since 1996, was watched by an average audience of 924,400 on RTÉ2. The World Cup final, between France and Croatia, was much less popular, but still attracted 654,400 (15th place).

England’s last-16 clash against Colombia, which England won on penalties, lured 638,600 (18th place), while the semi-final between France and Belgium was watched by 612,400 (20th place).

Apart from the now-expected ratings juggernaut that is the Late Late Toy Show, RTÉ One’s Room to Improve was the most-watched non-sporting programme, securing fifth place with an audience of 859,800. In this episode, architect Dermot Bannon cast his eye over the Donegal home of Daniel and Majella O’Donnell.

The two senior All-Ireland GAA finals were in sixth and seventh place, having fallen down the list compared to last year. Unusually, more people watched the hurling final than the football one. Galway v Limerick attracted 854,400 people, while Dublin v Tyrone brought in 841,100.

Weather ratings

For news, there was no beating the Beast from the East, with RTÉ One’s Six-One news bulletin on March 1st, the day of a “status red” warning across Ireland, watched by 807,600 people (eighth place) and the 9pm bulletin that same day viewed by 707,400 (10th place).

As the weather kept people indoors and in need of vital forecast updates, television viewing times rocketed in the first week of March, with TAM Ireland / Nielsen figures suggesting Irish people watched for an average of four hours and five minutes every day during that week.

The Eurovision Song Contest Final, live from Lisbon, came 11th in the most-watched list with 701,900, helped by the fact that Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s song Together qualified for the grand final, the first time Ireland had done so in five years.

Mrs Brown’s Boys, a staple of the most-watched list, had two entries, with Christmas Day special Exotic Mammy in 12th place with 688,700 viewers and New Year’s Eve episode Mammy’s Motel in 16th with 650,900.

The Late Late Show’s trip to London for a special episode in October was 17th with an average audience of 641,600, while RTÉ One’s documentary Whistleblower: The Maurice McCabe Story was 19th with 637,300.

Although just missing the top 20, the Christmas special of comedy The Young Offenders did well with a consolidated audience of 601,400 on RTÉ One, having received a large ratings boost from viewers on catch-up.

‘Offenders’ beat Pope

The most-watched instalment of RTÉ One’s Dancing with the Stars was watched by 598,500 people (22nd place), while TV3 / Virgin’s Ireland’s Got Talent won an average of 521,800 viewers on its debut episode.

Further down the list in 40th place, a regular series episode of The Young Offenders on RTÉ2 in March attracted a slightly higher average audience than RTÉ One's coverage of Pope Francis in Ireland in August, while the Pope in turn came in one place higher than the Rose of Tralee.

The average amount of time Irish people watched television each day in 2018 fell nine minutes compared to the previous year. However, Jill McGrath, chief executive of TAM Ireland, said the use of devices other than a television set was helping people consume more content, rather than detracting from the popularity of the medium.

“As programme choice continues to expand so too does our appetite for content,” she said. “TV is in a great place right now.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics