'Downton Abbey' Final Episode Draws 6.9M Viewers in U.K., Tops Christmas Day Ratings

Joanne Froggart Downton Abbey - H 2015
Courtesy of BBC America

The drama ends its run on ITV with its biggest Christmas ratings in years, but overall TV viewing in Britain on the day continues to slide.

The final episode of hit drama Downton Abbey in the U.K. drew an average audience of 6.9 million for broadcaster ITV on Sunday night, according to overnight ratings provided by ITV, giving it the biggest Christmas Day audience in Britain.

The final episode, which started at 8:45 p.m. and ran for two hours, peaked with 7.4 million viewers. The overnight average audience data compared with 5.8 million viewers for the show's Christmas special in 2014, which rose to 7.7 million in consolidated ratings that include one week of time-shifted viewing, and to 8.8 million for its penultimate episode on ITV in November, which were the best ratings for the final season.

The drama, created by Julian Fellowes and produced by NBCUniversal-owned Carnival Films, with Carnival boss Gareth Neame as executive producer, airs on PBS in the U.S.

The first Downton Abbey Christmas special in 2011 drew an average U.K. overnight audience of 8.6 million and a peak audience of 9.1 million, which rose to 12.1 million in the consolidated viewer figures, followed by 6.8 million in 2012 and 6.6 million in 2013.

"This is the first time a Downton Christmas special has topped the ratings in the U.K. on Christmas Day," said ITV.

The broadcaster said that, on a combined audience basis across BBC One and ITV, The Queen's Speech, an annual Christmas tradition in Britain, had the biggest overall audience of the day. The 3 p.m. speech drew 6.1 million BBC viewers and an additional 1.3 million viewers on ITV.

Continuing a trend of recent years, big shows in Britain attracted smaller overnight audiences on Christmas Day amid changing viewing behavior. The consolidated audience figures, including catch-up viewing, will be higher. Some observers predicted that this year's Christmas Day overnight audience figures would be among the lowest on record in the U.K., with early Saturday commentary suggesting viewing could have hit its lowest point since 2009.

Over the past two years, BBC comedy Mrs. Brown's Boys was the top-rated show on Christmas Day in the overnight ratings. In 2014, it had drawn 7.6 million overnight viewers, ahead of BBC soap opera EastEnders with 7.55 million. The latter this year seemed affected by airing opposite Downton Abbey's finale.

BBC sci-fi favorite Doctor Who, starring Peter Capaldi, in 2014 drew an overnight audience of 6.3 million on Christmas Day, beating out Downton Abbey, but this year recorded a smaller audience.

Here is a look at this year's most watched entertainment shows and films in the U.K. on Christmas Day based on overnight ratings:

Downton Abbey (ITV): 6.9 million average viewers (last year: 5.8 million)

Strictly Come Dancing (BBC): 6.5 million (7.0 million)

Mrs Brown's Boys (BBC): 6.4 million (7.6 million)

Stick Man (BBC): 6.4 million

Coronation Street (ITV): 5.9 million (6.6 million)

Call the Midwife (BBC): 5.8 million (6.8 million)

Doctor Who (BBC): 5.8 million (6.3 million)

EastEnders (BBC): 5.7 million (7.6 million)

Brave (BBC): 5.5 million