London 2012 opening ceremony draws 900 million viewers

LONDON (Reuters) - The opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics attracted an estimated global TV audience of 900 million people, with under-fire NBC notching up record viewing figures in the United States, organisers said on Tuesday.

U.S. broadcaster NBC, which has been criticised in some quarters for delaying coverage of some marquee events for prime-time broadcast, recorded its best network figures for the ceremony, the International Olympic Committee said.

Britons have been glued to their sets as well, with 88 percent of the country’s total population watching the Games at some point.

“I’m going to start with a fairly bold statement, I think London 2012 heralds really a new era in Olympic broadcasting,” the IOC’s television and marketing director Timo Lumme told reporters.

Digital output, online and on mobile phones, is likely to exceed traditional TV footage for the first time at London, registering more than 100,000 hours of coverage.

This is despite TV coverage exceeding that of Beijing 2008 by more than 40,000 hours, at 100,000 hours.

London is likely to be a first in technological terms as well, offering 3-D coverage, and testing super-high vision (super high definition) not yet available in homes.

Some videos posted on You Tube have been removed, but Lumme said it was fewer than expected, without giving a figure.

“It is not an excessive amount,” he added.


NBC has managed to make the London Games popular by tape-delaying marquee events to air in the evening in the United States, maximizing viewers and advertising dollars.

It had its best ever audience for an opening ceremony, nearly 41 million viewers, beating that of the last summer home Games of Atlanta in 1996.

“At the end of the day, they are the experts in what they do,” Lumme said.

U.S. teenage viewership was up 29 percent compared with Beijing, with a 54 percent increase among girls.

Media experts said this could very well be the last Olympics for which the model of tape-delaying works.

They point to the ever-growing demand from consumers who want to be able to watch content on any device at any time they want. NBC paid $4.4 billion for the U.S. rights to the next four Olympics through 2020.

More than 1 billion page views have been recorded so far on the NBC website, with more videos having been streamed in the U.S., at this stage, than for the entire Beijing Games.

“One of the contributory factors as always is athletes success, but I think we are on pretty safe ground to say the social media effect is also helping drive viewership as a general factor but also in the specific demographics we are talking about,” Lumme said.


In Britain, viewing figures for the opening ceremony peaked at 27 million, more than watched last year’s royal wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Many who struggled to get their hands on tickets in “sell-out” stadiums appear to have opted to watch it on TV, spurred on by one of the best ever performances by British athletes.

So far, 51 million Britons have watched some coverage of the Olympics.

The most watched individual Olympic event on British TV was the men’s 100-metre final on Sunday, the second-highest after ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s gold medal performance at the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, he said.

Lumme said global average viewing figures would only be available after the Games, but they appeared to be strong.

Pinpointing ratings would be difficult because systems varied in different national television markets, with only 80 out of 200 having a measuring system.

Nevertheless, he predicted the viewing figure for the 100 metres men final would be in the hundreds of millions.

Fewer people watched London’s opening ceremony than Beijing’s, which was viewed by 1.2 billion, he said.

About half of those were Chinese watching their own ceremony, also London’s opening ceremony was shown in the middle of the night in China, Lumme said.

The IOC said TV revenues for 2010-2012 were up 50 percent on 2006-2008 at $3.9 billion.

Agreements are already in place for the next winter Olympics at Sochi, and 2014-2016 has exceeded 2010-2012, despite some major territories still to be signed-up.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby, Editing by Nigel Hunt