London 2012: BBC First-Day Olympics Audience Peak Tops Most-Watched 2008 Broadcast

New BBC Boss

George Entwistle is the new big man at Britain’s Grey Lady, known lovingly as the Beeb. The former BBC journalism trainee nabbed the top job at the BBC this week, becoming the BBC’s 15th director general. the country's highest-profile TV industry job. Analysts described the news veteran as a “safe pair of hands” for the British broadcaster, but his lack of experience in the digital media business raised some concerns.

But the U.K. broadcaster's early cycling coverage drew viewer complaints with a lack of timing data, audio problems and commentary.

LONDON - The BBC drew a peak audience of 8.7 million TV viewers Saturday night with swimming finals on BBC1 on the first night of competitions at the Summer Olympics here.

That exceeded the U.K. public broadcaster's top-rated 2008 Summer Games live broadcast. The BBC that year drew a peak audience of 6.8 million with the closing ceremony, the Guardian reported back then. The most-watched Olympics highlights show in 2008 peaked with about 7.5 million viewers, according to a spokesman.

BBC1's coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony on Friday night had averaged 22.4 million viewers, or a share of 82.5 percent of all people watching TV in the U.K. at the time. That made the ceremony the most-watched TV event of the year and one of the top 20 TV events in British history, while also setting other records.

In other first competition-day ratings news, the broadcaster said it drew a 2.2 million peak audience for the men’s cycling road race on BBC3 on Saturday that saw Britain's Mark Cavendish fail to live up to the country's medal hopes for him.

But viewers complained to the BBC about poor audio, a lack of timing data and commentary mistakes during the cycling event.

The Guardian reported that Twitter derision added to telephone and other complaints. Wrote one viewer: "BBC cycling commentary and coverage absolutely appalling … no time checks and misidentified riders!" Another said the broadcast was "literally the worst commentary I have ever heard."

One BBC commentator later apologized for background noise during on-air links and interviews.

Former English soccer star Gary Lineker, who is serving as a BBC host, tweeted: "This is the Olympics. The coverage is from a pool of broadcasters from across the world. I'm afraid that's how it is regardless of who hosts."

As reported, a BBC spokesman late on Saturday apologized for the video problems and issues with timing data that was missing, making it difficult for commentators to say how far behind a leadership group Cavendish was during Saturday's bike race.

"The pictures are provided by the host broadcaster Olympic Broadcast Service to all global rights holders, these are not BBC produced pictures," the spokesman said. "We have raised our concerns with OBS who have explained that there were GPS problems with the [London Olympics organizing committee]-supplied timing graphics, which resulted in a lack of information for the commentary teams."

Twitter: @georgszalai