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What Ireland watched in 2021: news and sport dominate TV viewing but ‘Toy Show’ tops charts

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Late Late Toy show host Ryan Tubridy with performers. Photo: Andres Poveda

Late Late Toy show host Ryan Tubridy with performers. Photo: Andres Poveda

Late Late Toy show host Ryan Tubridy with performers. Photo: Andres Poveda

Sport and news coverage grabbed the attention of Irish television viewers over the past 12 months – but we also tuned in to hear what Harry and Meghan had to say about royal life.

The Irish Independent can today reveal the most popular programme of 2021 with the league table once again topped by The Late Late Toy Show.

While Ryan Tubridy’s place at the summit doesn’t come as a surprise, what comes afterwards may raise a few eyebrows.

Figures compiled by Nielsen Research show that more than half of the largest television audiences for 2021 were for sports events featuring the three main staples – GAA, rugby and football – with no room at the top for Olympics.

The All-Ireland, Six Nations and European Championships dominate the top 20 but none come close to challenging the Toy Show’s 1.7 million viewers.

The show pulled in over 750,000 more viewers than the second placed programme – the All-Ireland Football Final on September 11 between Mayo and Tyrone.

A most remarkable aspect of the table comes with the viewership of RTÉ’s Six One News. The news programme dominated the first week of the year as the country faced into a dark and uncertain post-Christmas lockdown.

All six RTÉ news programmes that appear on the list were all broadcast in the first eight days of 2021, averaging 733,000 per show, as the country faced another moment of great uncertainty in the Covid battle. 

An average audience of 944,000 tuned in to see if Mayo could break their 70-year Sam Maguire duck. Interestingly more people tuned in to watch the post-match analysis than the game itself.

RTÉ’s move to buy the rights for the Harry and Meghan interview with Oprah Winfrey – despite its simultaneous broadcast on ITV – paid off in spades and is sixth on the chart, becoming the most watched non-live programme of 2021 on RTÉ.

Following closely behind came the Valentine’s Day Six Nations clash between Ireland and France, which ended in a slim defeat for Andy Farrell’s side.

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Andy Milnes, head of client services at Nielsen Sport, said 2021 was a strong year for sports on television, and demonstrated how viewing habits of major sporting events influence households.

“Sport continues to be the leading genre for linear TV viewership,” Mr Milnes said.


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