Overall ratings for TVB's anniversary gala fell below 30 points for the first time in a decade amid online efforts to organise a boycott of the annual show, with protesters staging a mock funeral outside the studios.
The rating of 29 points was well below the show's 1992 record of 43 and last year's 34, but TVB said it was satisfied with the result - equivalent to more than 1.8 million viewers and a 95 per cent audience share - "under the current atmosphere as a result of the issuance of the new free-to-air television licences".
The broadcaster said it would make good on its promise to donate over HK$3 million to charity as the show recorded a one-minute peak of 31 - 1.99 million viewers and a 97 per cent audience share. It had pledged to donate HK$100,000 for each rating point, provided the show topped 30.
Industry experts said the drop was most likely the result of a new method of measuring ratings that painted a more realistic picture of viewership.
TVB has been accused of "hegemony" by opposing the government's awarding of new free-to-air television licences.
The anniversary gala, which gathers the station's top talents and most popular television stars, is TVB's largest variety show of the year.
After the 1992 record - equivalent to 2.2 million viewers - the best the broadcaster achieved in the 2000s was 37 in 2002. Since 2003, the rating has lingered between 34 and 35. It dropped to 31 points in 2011, but climbed back to 34 last year.
Ray Wong, a member of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies' media committee and head of media agency PHD, said the rating corresponded to TVB's average prime-time rating for the year.
The viewer count was the first conducted by AC Nielsen, which this year took over the television rating survey from CSM Media. "The research methodology and technology have changed," Wong said. "Comparison with last year's 34 is unfair."
Wong said CSM used a sample size of 650 households, which Nielsen boosted to 800.
Chinese University journalism professor Anthony Fung said the call for an online boycott had little impact on ratings because "those who control the remote controls are older people who aren't netizens".
TVB host Nat Chan Pak-cheung, who had vowed to crawl home on his knees if the show got a three-point rating, said the drop was "independent of the Facebook boycott campaign".
"The final rating figures were in line with my predictions, which were made with reference to the 29-point rating of the Miss Hong Kong show," he said.
In an e-mail leaked to the press, Caritas, one of the charities on TVB's donation list, was accused of pressuring staff to watch the programme on Tuesday in order to receive the donation. Caritas director vicar-general Michael Yeung Ming-cheung said it was never the charity's intention to influence its staff's choices.
Pok Oi Hospital, another beneficiary, said it had yet to decide whether to accept the donation.