Friday's Olympics opening ceremony most watched in history of summer games

NBC's Friday-night coverage of the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics drew the largest TV audience on record for a kickoff of the summer games.

According to Nielsen figures provided by NBC, 40.7 million average viewers watched the four-hour-plus telecast, outpacing the Atlanta game by 900,000 viewers while topping Beijing by 6 million and Athens by 15 million.


NBC's coverage was the highest-rated Friday night on any U.S. network in a decade.

Read my review calling the coverage a "winner" here.


Meanwhile, a mostly-media-made mini-flap flared when some in the British press criticized NBC for cutting three minutes of opening ceremonies out of the taped-delay version shown to American viewers in favor of an NBC interview with Michael Phelps.

The segment of the ceremonies that was not aired Friday night in the U.S. has been described in the British press as a musical and visual tribute to the victims of the "7/7" terrorist attack in London in 2005. But the official Olympics program guide does not describe it that way, according to Time magazine..

Either way, NBC was broadcasting to the U.S. not the U.K., and if there is still dispute today about the content, how many U.S. viewers do you think would have understood what it was Friday night?

Look, just about every media outlet trying to cover the games resents NBC for having exclusive access to everything -- especially stars like Phelps who come to the NBC studio to be interviewed while turning down requests from other outlets.

But you know what? Grow up, that's the way the world works -- and always has. NBC paid $1.18 billion for the rights and is spending a ton more to bring it to 40 million Americans a night. You think NBC isn't going to get better access?

But British media particularly hate NBC for it, and will try to gin up any controversy they can to criticize the American network's editorial judgment.

I know I will be accused of saying that pre-empting the alleged 7/7 tribute for a Phelps interview was OK, because I am a Baltimore "homer" for Phelps.

Actually, I've been Phelpsed-out for about four years now and was never really a fan. But I still think the choice NBC made for its U.S. viewers was OK. (Though I think they really could have cut the whole tribute to National Health Service, as I said my review. I'm not kidding -- a singing and dancing tribute the the National Health Service, really.)


Anyway, here are the ratings that have NBC executives smiling this weekend. And I am surprised that Baltimore was not one of the TOP 20 metered markets in viewership Friday. With all the Baltimore angles to these games, that's amazing, in fact.


1. London – 2012
 40.7 Million NBC
2. Atlanta – 1996
 39.8 Million NBC
3. Beijing - 2008
 34.9 Million NBC
4. Sydney – 2000
 27.3 Million NBC
5. Athens – 2004
 25.4 Million NBC
6. Seoul – 1988
 22.7 Million NBC
7. Barcelona – 1992
 21.6 Million NBC


1. London – 2012
 21.0/37 NBC
2. Beijing – 2008
 18.8/34 NBC
3. Rome – 1960
 18.1/36 CBS
4. Sydney – 2000
 16.2/29 NBC
5. Seoul – 1988
 15.2/29 NBC
6. Athens – 2004
 14.6/27 NBC
7. Barcelona – 1992
 13.8/29 NBC
8. Montreal – 1976
 11.1/39 ABC
9. Mexico City - 1968
 8.8/34 ABC
10. Munich – 1972
 6.5/28 ABC
11. Tokyo – 1964
 5.6/14 ABC



1. San Diego
T2. Washington D.C.
T2. West Palm Beach
4. Salt Lake City
5. Denver
6. Norfolk
7. Sacramento
T8. Kansas City
T8. Richmond
10. Columbus
T11. Boston
T11. Indianapolis
13. Seattle
14. Los Angeles
15. Atlanta
T16. Philadelphia
T16. Jacksonville
T18. Austin
T18. Ft. Myers
20. Portland

Jim Bell served as executive producer of NBC's Opening Ceremony coverage; Bucky Gunts, director; Molly Solomon and Joe Gesue producers.