LONDON - The seventh-season opener of Simon Cowell's Britain's Got Talent on ITV outperformed BBC rival The Voice UK on Saturday to become the highest-rated show on British TV so far this year.
With an average audience of 10.5 million, the talent competition was up by 600,000 viewers over last year's season launch.
The debut was also just short of BGT's best-ever season start audience of 10.6 million in 2010.
In comparison, the third episode of the second season of singing competition The Voice UK drew 6.7 million average viewers. The BBC said that this was the highest audience for the current season.
The two talent shows have been engaged in one of the most closely-watched ratings rivalries in the U.K. since then-newcomer The Voice beat established hit BGT for several weeks last season. The Voice UK had launched its first season late last March with 9.44 million viewers and became the BBC’s most successful new entertainment show in over a decade.
While last season ITV originally tried to avoid overlap with The Voice, it scheduled BGT to go head-to-head with The Voice for the start of this season. The BBC in return pushed the start time of The Voice, whose second season features such format tweaks as the introduction of the "steals" already used in the U.S., to 6:45 p.m. to get a slight headstart on the competitor.
On Saturday, BGT reached a 41.5 percent share of the total TV audience in Britain between 7 p.m. and 8:35 p.m. The Voice had a 26.8 percent share of the audience in its 6:45 p.m.- 8:15 p.m. time slot.
BGT hit a five-minute audience peak of 13 million at 8:25 p.m.
Said ITV's director of television Peter Fincham: "I'm delighted with such a strong start to what promises to be a fantastic series, with lots more for viewers to look forward to."
BGT's strong start is likely to be seen as evidence that Cowell can still draw an audience after his recent ITV cooking show Food Glorious Food opened with fewer than 3 million viewers.
"They will be very competitive," Cowell recently said about The Voice UK. "I don't take anything for granted. It will rest on how good the talent is on both shows."
In addition to Cowell, the BGT judges are Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and comedian David Walliams. The Voice UK coaches are Jessie J, will.i.am, Tom Jones and Danny O’Donoghue.