2020 vision: how Covid news topped the TV ratings

Virus briefings trounced celeb contests and one man’s tale of a family trip to Durham was the most gripping of all

Who could have predicted that a softly-spoken 48-year-old who had never previously fronted a TV format would, in 2020, achieve one of the biggest afternoon audiences ever? Or that a 94-year-old veteran broadcaster (who wasn’t Sir David Attenborough) could suddenly triple the ratings for their regular slot? Or that Boris Johnson’s appearances on Have I Got News For You?, the roots of the populist persona that took him to power, now rank as relatively niche appearances on his TV CV?

But, on 23 March, Johnson was watched by an audience of 27.4 million across six networks as he announced the first national lockdown, with 17.7 million tuning in on 22 September when he outlined revised restrictions, and 17.3 million for his Halloween declaration of a second national lockdown on 31 October. Just between those performances in the state ratings chart was the Queen’s national address on 7 April (with Johnson in hospital) which was watched by 19.39 million across BBC and ITV.

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