BBC news

A UK TV audience averaging 22.4m people watched Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, BBC overnight figures show.

It means the ceremony was the UK’s 13th most watched programme ever.

The audience peaked at 26.9m, an 82% share – almost twice that of the previous high for an Olympic opening ceremony, in Barcelona in 1992.

Highlights of the three-and-a-half hour ceremony, shown on BBC One and BBC HD, included an unlikely meeting between the Queen and James Bond.

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Opening ceremony viewing figures

  • Beijing 2008 – 5.06m
  • Athens 2004 – 8.68m
  • Sydney 2000 – 4m
  • Atlanta 1996 – 1.1m
  • Barcelona 1992 – 11.3m

Source: BARB

All ceremonies were broadcast live. Time differences between the host and the UK explain the variations.

UK viewing figures for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games in 2008 averaged at 5m and peaked at 5.4m.

During the Athens games in 2004, 8.68m UK viewers watched the official opening.

The disparity is attributed to the time difference between the host nation and the UK: two hours ahead of British Summer Time for Greece, and seven hours for China.

Friday’s viewing figures were “absolutely amazing”, tweeted the BBC’s director for London 2012, Roger Mosey.

The biggest audience ever in the UK for a single programme remains the 30.5m for EastEnders on 25 December 1986.

Ice-dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were watched by 23.95m during the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo – the only Olympic event to make the viewing top 10.