On-demand viewing has helped propel the debut episode of revamped BBC motoring show Top Gear from a disappointing overnight audience to its strongest season launch since 2013. The BBC2 show attracted an overnight average of just 4.4 million viewers to its first episode, its lowest season debut in a decade.

However, Barb figures revealed yesterday show the consolidated audience for the programme’s season 23 opener shot up to 6.42 million, with 1.75 million iPlayer views helping it to a par with last year’s debut, which secured 6.41 million. The two million-plus catch-up viewers helped make the show the strongest launch episode since season 19, the BBC said, with a 28.8% share, up on the 2015 launch episode of 20.8% and the 2015 series average of 21.8%.

The new-look show, fronted by Chris Evans and former Friends star Matt LeBlanc, has come in for criticism from viewers and critics amid low overnight ratings for the first two episodes. Sunday’s second instalment dropped 1.5 million viewers in the overnights to just 2.8 million and a 14% audience share. But Alan Tyler, acting controller of BBC Entertainment Commissioning, said he was “delighted” at the numbers once catch-up was factored in.

He added: “We are also thrilled that Top Gear was the most watched programme on BBC Two among 16-34s last week. Add to this a further 1.75 million requests on BBC iPlayer to date, along with the highest audience share for an individual transmission (28.8%) since The Great British Bake Off in 2013, and it is clear there is plenty to celebrate about the return of the nation’s favourite motoring show.”

Attacks on the show’s audience numbers led to Evans taking to Twitter to defend the programme.

Evans and LeBlanc were brought in after ex-presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond left the show following Clarkson’s assault on a producer last year. Top Gear is a cash cow for BBC commercial arm BBC Worldwide, raking in around £50m annually.




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