8m see Jackson verdict on BBC
Tuesday June 14, 2005
Nearly 8 million people watched the BBC's main evening news last night for live coverage of the culmination of Michael Jackson's high-profile, four-month trial.
The timing of the verdicts proved highly fortuitous for the BBC, which went live to correspondent Matt Frei outside the Santa Maria courtroom in California at 10pm, shortly after the judge announced the jury had reached a verdict.
Although cameras were not allowed into the courtroom, broadcasters were given a live audio feed of the verdicts being read out in court.
Ratings for the half-hour bulletin peaked at 7.9 million at 10.15pm as the jury's 10 not guilty verdicts were read out one by one.
The BBC 10 O'Clock News averaged 7.5 million viewers - more than one in three viewers - according to unofficial overnight figures.
The audience for last night's bulletin was the largest since the last week of 2004, when BBC1's coverage of the tsunami disaster pulled in an average of 7.8 million viewers a night.
This was a major boost for the corporation, which usually draws 5-6 million viewers for its flagship bulletin.
Viewers were shown the army of Jackson fans outside the courtroom, one of whom released a white dove as each not guilty verdict was read out.
While Jackson wept quietly at the result, at ITV there may well have been tears of frustration at the timing of the verdict. ITV's News at 10.30pm averaged an audience of 2.9 million, less than half that of the BBC.
The 24-hour news channels also enjoyed a ratings boost from the Jackson verdict. Sky News achieved its fourth highest ever ratings, peaking at 1,069,000 viewers and a 6.79% share between 10pm and 10.15pm. BBC News 24 had a peak of 616,000 and a 3% share at the same time.
In 1997 Sky News recorded its highest peak of 1,697,000 for the Louise Woodward trial. The Iraq conflict in 2003 also peaked at over a million with 1,213,000 tuning in - narrowly ahead of the numbers viewing the OJ Simpson trial in 1995 (1,203,000).
Since the trial started 13 weeks ago, Sky News and Sky One have been airing daily reconstructions of the events taking place in court using a Michael Jackson lookalike.
BBC News was helped by a strong inherited audience from cop drama New Tricks at 9pm. The show averaged an audience of 6.5 million (a 34% share), peaking 15 minutes before the news with 7.1 million .
Celebrities are still proving more popular than Joe Public in the reality TV stakes. Channel 4's Big Brother is continuing to lose its battle with its ITV rival, achieving an audience last night of 3 million.
More impressively, the tawdry goings-on at Celebrity Love Island continued to pull in the viewers, with an average audience of 4.2 million and a peak of nearly 5 million.
However, the show peaked early with 4.9 million viewers when it started at 9.30pm. Throughout its duration it lost more than a million viewers.
ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald fared well given its subject matter. Tracking the demise of Britain's last major car manufacturer and presented by slick-haired former Top Gear presenter Quentin Wilson, Why Rover Crashed pulled in 3.5 million viewers.