Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Saturday, 9 August 2008 12:42 UK

Olympic opening draws 5m viewers

Olympic rings
The Olympic rings were created from thousands of specks of light and lifted into the sky

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics attracted an average audience of five million viewers to BBC One, according to initial overnight figures.

More than 50% of people watching TV on Friday afternoon tuned in to see the fireworks, acrobats and athletes - with a peak audience of 5.4m at 1700BST.

A further 700,000 watched the first day of the games live on the BBC website.

But due to China's time difference, TV audiences were down from the 8.68m who watched the Athens ceremony in 2004.

Globally, there was an estimated TV audience of one billion people for the four-and-a-half-hour spectacular.

US delay

The show, which featured 10,000 performers, including 2,008 drummers and a skywalking, torch-bearing gymnast lighting the Olympic flame, received rave reviews.

"The world may never witness a ceremony of the magnitude and ingenuity as that which opens the 2008 Olympics," said the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fireworks at the Olympics opening
Fireworks punctuated the four-and-a-half-hour ceremony
"It was a floor show that made the most spectacular revue in Las Vegas look like a church picnic," wrote Mike Downey in the Chicago Tribune.

However, viewers in the US were angered as the broadcast was delayed by 12 hours.

TV network NBC, which owns exclusive rights to Olympics coverage in the States, waited until the evening to show the ceremony rather than putting it out live.

A spokesman for the broadcaster, which paid $894m (465.7m) for the rights, said the decision was taken to maximise viewing figures.

"It's a business decision," a spokesman told the AFP news agency. "It protects our affiliates, our advertisers, and shows it to the largest number of viewers possible."

But many were unimpressed.

"It sort of feels like the entire world is attending a huge party and NBC threw away our invite," wrote one blogger, while others traded tips on how to watch the ceremony online.

When it was finally broadcast on Friday night, the event drew 34.2 million viewers, making it the biggest US broadcast since the Super Bowl.

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