Audiences have once again flocked to RTÉ's festival of elves, escapism, giveaways and goo. The Late Late Toy Show, dubbed an “Irish Thanksgiving” by its new host, achieved its traditional feat on Friday night by becoming the biggest programme on Irish television this year.
An average of 1,461,800 viewers watched Patrick Kielty’s leggings-clad debut as presenter of the live annual Christmas extravaganza on RTÉ One. This yielded an audience share of 81.5 per cent, meaning four out of every five people watching television at the time were tuned in.
Kielty’s live audience on RTÉ One eclipsed the 1.33 million who watched Ryan Tubridy’s final Toy Show in 2022, as the curiosity factor brought RTÉ extra viewers.
It said more than 1.7 million people had watched over the weekend, including catch-up viewing on Saturday and Sunday, the live audience on RTÉ One+1 and viewing to the Sunday afternoon repeat.
Within this, some 31,600 viewers watched on RTÉ One+1 – one of the two time-shifted channels that has been earmarked for closure under director general Kevin Bakhurst’s cost-cutting plan – while 126,000 watched the Sunday afternoon repeat.
The show also generated 550,000 streams on the RTÉ Player from a record-breaking 147 countries, including first-time streams from Cameroon, British Virgin Islands, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Almost a quarter of live streams on Friday night were from outside the State, making the show the most-watched programme on RTÉ Player this year. Streams from Northern Ireland more than doubled, while RTÉ also said the show and its young stars had been a hit on social media.
“I’m still coming back down to earth from an amazing night last Friday. I want to express huge thanks to everyone who helped make this year’s Late Late Toy Show so special,” said Kielty.
The Co Down presenter and comedian described the experience as “a forever night” and also thanked members of the public who have donated more than €3.6 million to this year’s Toy Show Appeal.
The tally of viewers means the Toy Show safely beat the audience for what had been the top-ranked programme to date this year: Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
The game was watched by 1,384,100 people on Virgin Media One last month, marking the highest ever viewership in the 25-year history of the channel formerly known as TV3. Had Ireland progressed to the semi-final, the tournament might have set up a more serious challenge to the Toy Show’s reign at the top of the television ratings.
The final consolidated figure for Friday night – which will include seven days of catch-up viewing, but exclude digital streams, the RTÉ One+1 audience and viewership to the repeat – is not yet available.
This means it remains to be seen if the television audience for Kielty’s first Toy Show has officially exceeded the most-watched of Tubridy’s Toy Shows.
The most-watched Late Late Toy Show on record was the 2020 edition, which won a consolidated audience of 1,716,800, with the 2021 edition not far behind on 1,707,800. Based on single-channel broadcasts, these are the two most-watched programmes on Irish television this century.
Even in non-Covid years, the Late Late Toy Show has been a ratings phenomenon almost without parallel: 15 of the 17 most-watched programmes on Irish television this century are the last 15 Toy Shows.
The only programmes to beat any of the Toy Shows in this time are Virgin’s rugby quarter-final, which narrowly exceeded the audience for the 2017 Toy Show, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s emergency pandemic broadcast on St Patrick’s Day 2020.
This was watched by almost 1,599,000 people on RTÉ One alone, placing it third in the consolidated ratings for the century. However, if the Taoiseach’s Virgin Media One audience at the same time is included, more than 1,800,000 tuned into his Covid crisis address, putting it out in front for live viewership.
The figures are compiled by research company Nielsen for industry body TAM Ireland and are based on a meter installed in a representative panel of about 1,090 homes.