Opening Ceremony, London Olympics


UPDATE: Sunday's prime-time Olympic coverage was even bigger than Saturday's, averaging nearly 35 million viewers.


The 2012 London Olympics hasn't just been winning; it's been record-setting.

Friday's opening ceremony was the most-watched opening ceremony for a summer games. Saturday's opening night of competition was the most-watched opening night of competition for a summer games. 

A look at some possible explanations behind the ratings surge:

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

1. Beijing: The site of the 2008 summer games offered up an opening ceremony that "rewrote the record books," as it was admiringly put at the time. Four years later, with memories of that show still vivid, people might have planted themselves in front of their screens, Daniel T. Durbin, director of USC's Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society says, "to see if London would be as spectacular as Beijing." (Let the debate over the Danny Boyle-produced event begin continue.)

Team Great Britain, London Olympic Opening Ceremony

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

2. London: "London is certainly a draw, with people [in the United States] being proportionally more curious and interested about England than most other parts of the world," says the University of Alabama's Andrew Billings, author of Olympic Media: Inside the Biggest Show on Television. Another factor in the city's favor, according to Billings: Its time zone. The lag for NBC's time-delayed prime-time coverage is less for some events than in past games.

Daniel Craig, Queen Elizabeth


3. The Royals: After a scandal-plagued time, Buckingham Palace is back. Prince William's storybook wedding to the former Kate Middleton helped spur goodwill; Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebration didn't hurt—and neither did her opening-ceremony bit with Daniel Craig's James Bond. 

Opening Ceremony, David Beckham

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

4. Twitter, Facebook and the Rest: "NBC has placed a fairly heavy bet on social media and early returns would suggest it is working," Billings says. "Social media may be providing more positive buzz about the Olympics than it is deflating ratings by offering results in real time." In other words, if you read tweets about the queen's stadium skydive or David Beckham's cameo, it's possible you tuned in hours later to see them.

Ryan Lochte


5. The Games: Oh, yes, those. Make that, definitely those. "There's a unique quality to sports events right now," Durbin says, "and they're garnering much larger audiences than ever before." Exhibit A, B and C: The last three Super Bowls, which are currently the three most-watched TV shows of all time. Exhibit D: The record Saturday-night ratings for Ryan Lochte's and Michael Phelps' initial duel in the pool.

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