LONDON Almost 27 million Britons watched the Olympic opening ceremony, trumping viewing figures for last year's royal wedding and underscoring a growing sense of excitement as London hosts the Games for the third time.
Around the globe, approximately one billion people were reported to have watched director Danny Boyle's celebration of British history and culture on Friday, the UK government said on Saturday.
The domestic audience peaked at 26.9 million during a section featuring dancing doctors and nurses in a tribute to Britain's state-funded National Health Service, according to figures from the BBC.
Britons showed plenty of stamina during the near four-hour show. More than 19 million were still watching when the Olympic cauldron was lit at half past midnight (7.30 p.m. EDT).
Britain has spent around nine billion pounds ($14.1 billion) to build and stage the Games, returning to London for the first time since 1948.
Some Britons questioned the cost at a time of deep cuts in government spending while fears over security and transport furthered tempered enthusiasm for the world's biggest sporting event.
However, the mood appears to have lifted as the Games finally got under way after seven years of preparation.
The television audience for last year's wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton peaked at 26.3 million when the couple reached the altar in Westminster Abbey, according to industry data.
The royal wedding was shown on several British channels, while the BBC has the exclusive rights to the Olympics.
England's 1966 World Cup victory over West Germany is the most watched program in British television history, with an estimated audience of 32.3 million, according to research by the British Film Institute.
The 1997 funeral of Princess Diana also drew an audience of more than 32 million. ($1 = 0.6364 British pounds)