Celebrating a historic year for British sport, the annual awards ceremony averaged 10.57m (39.6%) between 7.30pm and 10.30pm, reaching a high in the last five minutes as Bradley Wiggins was named winner.
Copyright: PA Images David Davies/PA WireDespite the impact of the 2012 Olympics, the figure is unexpected as last year's ceremony averaged only 4.2m.
Strictly Come Dancing, which preceded Sports Personality of the Year, attracted 10.73m (42.5%) for Lisa Riley's departure and topped the night.
BBC One beat ITV in every primetime slot, with Countryfile (6.16m/28.1%) and the late BBC News (8.99m/43.7%) also performing well.
Meanwhile, new costume drama The Making of a Lady pulled in 3.29m (12.1%) for ITV1 from 9pm and 210,000 on +1, prior to which 1.56m (6.1%) watched Happy Birthday to ET, a programme marking 30 years since the blockbuster was released.
Over on BBC Two, Calendar Girls thrilled 1.57m (5.7%) from 8.30pm, while Homeland nabbed 1.78m (6.5%) for Channel 4 at 9pm (+1: 246k).
The Da Vinci Code was Channel 5's highest-grossing broadcast of the day, logging 1.42m (6.4%) for Channel 5 and 179k on +1.
Continuing to struggle in its Sunday 10pm slot, Peep Show slumped to a new series low of 668k (2.7%), although 205k caught the Channel 4 sitcom an hour later on +1.
Overall, BBC One reigned victorious in primetime with 40.2%, miles ahead of ITV1's 8.5% (+1: 0.7%), BBC Two's 5.2%, Channel 4's 4.6% (+1: 0.8%), and Channel 5's 4.2% (+1: 0.7%).
BARB ratings data supplied by Attentional