Danny Boyle’s spectacular introduction to the Olympic Games drew a peak television audience of almost 27 million, as viewers across Britain tuned in to see London welcome athletes from around the globe to the XXX Olympiad.
At 9:50pm, just as Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean was taking part in an orchestral performance of the inspirational Chariots of Fire theme, 26.89 million viewers (an 81.6% share of the total UK viewing audience at that time) were watching on BBC1. That’s more than the 23.16 million (77.4%) who saw England’s Euro 2012 penalty exit against Italy in June and the combined peak audience of 26.17 million (93.24% across BBC1 and ITV1) who watched Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the not in April 2011.
Across the ceremony’s three-and-a-half-hour running time, between 9pm and 12:30am, an average of around 23 million were watching, with over 100,000 tuned to the 3D broadcast on BBC HD and 1 million streaming the coverage online, according to figures published by Broadcast.
BBC1 controller Danny Cohen said of the event: “Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was an absolute triumph. I am very proud of the two BBC drama films that formed part of the ceremony.
“The audience response to the film featuring the Queen and James Bond was one of my highlights.”
Along with Bean and Bond, the ceremony featured Kenneth Branagh as engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel leading a scene charting the Industrial Revolution, as well as performances from Dizzee Rascal and Emeli Sandé, who sang a moving rendition of Abide with Me during a diorama widely interpreted as paying tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings.
However, American viewers watching a time-delayed broadcast on US network NBC missed the key scene, which was replaced by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest interviewing swimmer Michael Phelps.