The whole world tuned in

Olympics' opener sets ratings record in China and is a hit worldwide

Other than Teutons who thumbed their noses, an impressively wide swath of viewers worldwide tuned in for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, including a record-breaking number of the Chinese public.

Competing poll data shows that the four-hour TV spectacle Friday night drew between 63% and 69% of China's total audience, smashing a 51%-58% market-share record previously held each year by the Chinese New Year gala broadcast in the spring.

China, with a population of 1.3 billion served largely by state-controlled broadcasters, is forecast to overtake Japan as the world's second-largest ad market by 2010. Its three biggest markets — the capital Beijing, biggest city Shanghai, and Guangdong province — boast TV penetration of almost 99% of residents.

The Nielsen Co. said 63%, or 393 million of Chinese it polls in 14 TV markets, watched the spectacular display of national culture designed by film director Zhang Yimou.

The Shanghai office of AGB Nielsen Media Research polled 204 households representing a population of 628 million residents of China's most affluent cities.

Competing poll data from CSM Media Research — a partnership between London-based TNS and CCTV-affiliated CTR Market Research — showed that the event drew a higher overall market share of 69%, representing 842 million of China's population.

U.S. rights-holder NBC delayed telecasting the event for 12 hours in order to reach the larger primetime audience. The gamble paid off, as word of the spectacular production saturated the U.S. media Friday and made the telecast a must-see event. The resulting ratings were far better than TV industry insiders had expected -- or that the network's own execs had dared hoped. The broadcast from Beijing was the most-viewed and highest-rated non-U.S. Summer Olympics opening ceremony ever, averaging 34.2 million viewers and receiving an 18.6 national household rating.

However, in Germany — where protests dogged the Olympic flame's passage through Europe — 7.72 million people watched the opening ceremonies live shortly before 2 p.m. Central European time Friday, reaching a 52% market share, pubcaster ARD's ratings showed.

This paled in comparison with the France v. Italy 2006 soccer World Cup final, when 84%, or almost 30 million people, tuned in. An indication of the lackluster interest was seen in the 17% market share drawn by "Olympia Live" an hour before the opening--less than both the evening news and a quiz show.

There was more enthusiasm elsewhere.

In Britain more than 50% of all television viewers tuned in on BBC1, making up an audience of just under 5.5 million viewers. A further 700,000 watched live on the BBC website. Due to the seven-hour time lag, this was lower than the nine million Brits who watched the Athens Olympics opening ceremony in 2004.

As host nation for the 2012 Olympics in London, Britain could only look on in awe at the $100 million spent on the Beijing extravaganza, considerably more than the British authorities have committed to London's opening fest.

"We are not daunted, we are really excited. What an inspirational show," said Paul Deighton, CEO of London's Olympic organizing committee. "We can't wait to get started on our welcome to London in four years' time."

In Australia, the Seven Network said the event drew an average audience of 3.3 million viewers in the country's five state capitals. Aussies stayed up late to watch the full ceremony, which aired from 10 p.m. to 2:17 a.m. local time and gave Seven a 52% prime time share.

In France, nearly one in two viewers watched the event live through the mid-afternoon on pubcaster France 2. It was preceded by an exclusive interview with President Nicolas Sarkozy from Beijing in which he said he raised the issue of human rights during successive meetings with Chinese President Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

That broadcast drew 4.4 million viewers and gave France 2 a market share of 37%, according to audience measurement body Mediametrie.

In Italy, RAI drew a 49% share of the market, reaching 5.5 million viewers.

The Hollywood Reporter is owned by The Nielsen Company.

Pip Bulbeck in Sydney, Karen Chu in Hong Kong, Bonnie Gordon in Munich, Mimi Turner in London, James Hibberd in Los Angeles and Charles Masters in Paris contributed to this report.