Revamped 'Top Gear' Audience Drops in U.K. Season Debut

Matt LeBlanc 'Top Gear' Getty - H 2016
Courtesy of Getty Images

The BBC's flagship motoring show returned to British TV after more than a year and with a totally new lineup of hosts, including Matt LeBlanc.

The Sunday night U.K. debut of the BBC's revamped Top Gear, hosted by British media personality Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc and three others, drew an average audience of 4.3 million viewers, according to overnight data.

"#TopGear returned to BBC2 with a new lineup and a healthy 4.3m/22.6% from 8pm," tweeted ratings analysis firm One observer noted that this was the lowest overnight ratings for a season debut of the show in a decade.

While other ratings tweets also mentioned the 4.3 million figure, rounded down from 4.34 million, the BBC itself cited an average audience of 4.4 million. The BBC also highlighted that Top Gear was the "biggest show at 8 p.m.," citing as its nearest rival The British Soap Awards on ITV, which were watched by an average of 3.9 million people.

Top Gear's season launch on BBC Two compares with an average 4.7 million overnight audience for the first episode of the previous season, which was season 22, that aired in late December 2014. It also compares with the 5.3 million viewers in the overnight ratings that the final episode with former hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May drew last June.

Evans had said this about his ratings expectations: "You have got to say you would be disappointed if it was under 5 million."

The season launch had a higher overnight audience share at 22.6 percent than the previous season opener's 20.2 percent, according to (The BBC cited a 22.8 percent share.)

On-demand viewing will further boost the consolidated one-week audience for the new-look show, which has been the subject of intense scrutiny since Clarkson was ousted as host last year after a "fracas" with a producer. The new Top Gear will debut in the U.S. on Monday night on BBC America.

Amazon's upcoming big-budget motoring show led by Clarkson recently received a name: The Grand Tour.

Evans earlier this year highlighted that hiring LeBlanc was a nod to the show’s increased global nature — it is estimated to be worth some $75 million as a brand to BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the U.K. public broadcaster — and that his appointment had already been worth it. “We got so much comms coming back from all over the world, immediately Matt had earned his money on day one,” he said.

Both Evans and LeBlanc, who starred in the show's first teaser, also shrugged off rumors that the format would totally change. "The last show wasn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it," said LeBlanc. Evans said that he didn’t want to fully copy the previous incarnation of the series, which is why he and the show team opted for five hosts instead. The three others are Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz and Chris Harris.

Viewers on Twitter gave the rebooted show mixed reviews. Some lauded it for not changing the format too much, and LeBlanc and Schmitz drew positive reviews. Others, meanwhile, said Evans was too "shouty" and trying too hard. "Chris. Please. Stop. Shouting. #TopGear," wrote one. 

Netflix will stream Top Gear in multiple international territories.