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Michael Jackson memorial draws 31.1 million U.S. TV viewers

Michael Jackson's daughter, Paris (3rd R), cries as she attempts to speak and is consoled by Jackson's siblings (back L-R) Jermaine, La Toya, Jackie, Janet, Randy, (front L-R) Marlon, Tito, Rebbie, and her brother Prince Michael (2nd R) during memorial services for pop star Michael Jackson in Los Angeles July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - More than 31 million Americans watched the public memorial for Michael Jackson live on television -- well below the TV audience for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s burial and the funeral of Britain’s Princess Diana.

Nielsen Media Research said on Wednesday that Jackson’s two-hour memorial in Los Angeles was carried live on Tuesday by 18 U.S. television networks and cable channels, drawing an audience of 31.1 million.

Although the figure did not include millions more who are thought to have watched on the Internet or in replays, the audience paled in comparison to the 37.8 million who watched a full day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January, and the 49.5 million Americans who tuned in for Obama’s first White House news conference in February.

Internet company Akamai, which handles 20 percent of the world’s Web traffic, reported on Tuesday that it ran some 2.8 million audio and video streams during the Jackson memorial webcast, making it the most widely viewed on the Internet since Obama’s inauguration.

Singers Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson and Usher were among artists who performed for some 18,000 fans, family and friends of the singer in the emotional two-hour tribute at the Staples Center arena.

Giving comparisons for other recent major televised funerals, Nielsen said the Jackson memorial audience ranked third on U.S. TV after Reagan’s burial (35 million) in 2004 and the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 (33.2 million).

It was also just ahead of the 30.6 million in 2005 who tuned in to learn that Jackson had been acquitted on child molestation and other charges after a four-month trial.

Live television audience figures in the United States have slipped in recent years as Americans watch more recorded TV and live streaming on the Internet, mobile phones and other platforms.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Walsh