Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 address is one of most-watched TV programmes ever | Television & radio

Boris Johnson’s address to the nation ordering Britons to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic was one of the most-watched broadcasts in UK television history, with more than 27 million Britons tuning in live to watch him announce the historic lockdown of the country.

This puts the pre-recorded broadcast in the top tier of most-watched British television programmes ever, up with the likes of the 1966 World Cup final and the funeral of Princess Diana, making clear the historic importance of the occasion as the country collectively watched the prime minister give the latest coronavirus guidance.

The overnight viewing figures do not include the millions of Britons who watched the broadcast on internet livestreams through news apps and websites, or those who watched it through catch-up services, meaning the real audience is likely to have been substantially higher.

Viewing figures for live television news have rocketed since the outbreak of the pandemic, with previously struggling shows seeing enormous increases in audiences and viewers desperate for new, accurate information returning to traditional channels rather than relying on social media.

Johnson’s short message urging people to stay in their homes for at least three weeks had been heavily trailed and was broadcast live on BBC1, BBC News, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky News. It was the first ministerial broadcast to the nation since Tony Blair committed British forces to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, exercising a right only used by political leaders at times of great national turmoil.

In a sign of changing consumer habits, the prime ministerial address has also been uploaded to Amazon’s Prime video service where it dominates the homescreen of the streaming service.

Amazon Prime video’s homepage on 24 March.

Amazon Prime video’s homepage on 24 March. Photograph: Amazon

It is possible that the final official viewing figures, compiled over the course of the next four weeks, could push it close to the 1966 World Cup final, the current record holder for Britain’s official most-watched television programme. A combined audience of 32.3 million on BBC and ITV watched the match, although this figure was recorded in an era when viewing data collection methods were substantially less accurate.

Not all television channels interrupted their programming on Monday night to show the prime minister’s address. Viewers on BBC2 watching a University Challenge quarter-final may have been unaware that Johnson was on almost every other channel ordering the public to stay in their homes as they watched Durham University comprehensively beat Wolfson College, Oxford.

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