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NBC Sets Opening Ceremony Record With London 2012 Olympics

Mr Bean

By DAVID BAUDER   07/28/12 05:26 PM ET  AP

NEW YORK -- A look at media coverage of the London Olympics:

An opening ceremony from the mother country with a Beatle, a queen and Mr. Bean proved irresistible for viewers in the United States, with a record-setting 40.7 million people watching NBC's first night of summer Olympics coverage.

The Nielsen company said Saturday that London's opener was the most-watched opening ceremony of any summer or winter Olympics. It topped the previous mark of 39.8 million people who watched the 1996 games in Atlanta begin, and the 34.9 million who watched the colorful first night from Beijing four years ago.

The London ceremony featured an unusual made-for-TV stunt featuring actor Daniel Craig portraying James Bond escorting the real-life Queen Elizabeth II to the ceremony and ended with Paul McCartney's anthemic "Hey Jude." But according to Twitter, the biggest spike in tweets came when actor Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean") appeared in a "Chariots of Fire" homage.

An estimated 5 million comments about the opening ceremony were made on social media, according to the research company Bluefin Labs. It was more interesting to women, apparently, as 58 percent of the comments were from women and 42 percent from men, Bluefin said.

It was the most-watched television event in the U.S. since the winter, when 39.9 million people watched the Grammy Awards and 39.3 million saw the Oscars.

The results were a good sign for NBC and broadcast TV in general, which is increasingly finding that big events draw people to the screen more than regular entertainment programming – most likely encouraged by multi-screen experiences, or people conversing through social media while watching television.

NBC Universal also earned a measure of redemption from critics. The company, which began streaming all of the Olympics competition online live on Saturday, was blistered on Twitter Friday by people who wondered why the opening ceremony wasn't shown live (it was aired on NBC on tape delay, since London's time zone is five hours ahead of the eastern United States). But four years ago in Beijing, NBC learned such complaints only increased buzz and made people more interested in watching it on TV in prime time.

"The audience number for the London opening ceremony is a great early sign that our strategy of driving people to watch NBC in prime time is working," said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group.

Regionally, the top ratings Friday night were recorded in San Diego, Washington, D.C. and West Palm Beach, Fla., Nielsen said.

Despite selling more than $1 billion worth of advertising for the London Olympics, NBC Universal has said it expects to lose money on the games. Higher ratings, however, could help NBC earn more money by selling additional advertising at a higher cost as the games go on.

RERUN: NBC aired a rerun of Olympics competition at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday. But it was justified: the network showed Michael Phelps' initial qualifying race, which had been aired live shortly after 5 a.m.

CLOSE GAME: The tighter-than-expected women's basketball game between the U.S. and Croatia challenged NBC announcers Bob Fitzgerald and Lisa Leslie. They were in an awkward position, following the "home team" for U.S. viewers in what was turning into a Cinderella situation for the other side. Before pulling away at the end, the U.S. led 53-49 after three quarters against a team that it had beaten by 54 points a week ago, a team that barely made the Olympics. The announcers could have done a better job exploring the deficiencies of the U.S. play, and whether it put an anticipated Gold Medal run in jeopardy.

QUOTE: "They'll be partying on the streets of Kazakhstan tonight." – Cycling analyst Paul Sherwen after Alexandr Vinokurov's unexpected win in the men's road race.

UPCOMING: The U.S. women's gymnastics team springs into action on NBC Sunday night. In daytime viewing, the U.S. men's basketball team opens up against France.

Related on HuffPost:

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  • Opening Ceremony

    The five Olympic rings rise above a scene depicting the era of the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    An artist performs during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    An artist performs as huge chimneys emerge from the ground to symbolise the industrial revolution during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict a view of the English countryside during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A drummer performs during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artistic Director of the Opening Ceremony Danny Boyle speaks whilst standing next to the Olympic Bell during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Chimneys erupt from the centre of the field during The Age of Industry scene in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    An artist performs as a chimney emerges from the ground to symbolise the industrial revolution during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    An actor climbs a giant chimney during The Age of Industry scene in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A performer climbs along a chimney emerging from the ground to symbolise the industrial revolution during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Huge chimneys emerge from the ground to symbolise the industrial revolution during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Drummers drum during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict a view from the change of the English countryside to the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artists perform around chimneys during The Age of Industry scene in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Freshly 'forged' Olympic Rings fly above the chimneys during The Age of Industry scene in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    The Olympic rings are assembled above the stadium in a scene depicting the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Rings representing both the Olympics and the Industrial Revolution are lit during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view of the the set depicting the English countryside during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    The Olympic rings are assembled above the stadium in a scene depicting the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Actors perform in the scene The Age of Industry during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Rings representing both the Olympics and the Industrial Revolution are lit during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Artists perform as the Olympic rings are pictured above the stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Rings representing both the Olympics and the Industrial Revolution are lit during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    An actor dressed to resemble Britain's Queen Elizabeth II parachutes into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Actors perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Actors perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    The Olympic rings float above artists performing during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Aerial view shows the Olympic rings being raised in the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict the industrial revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict the industrial revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    General view of the Olympic Stadium as the Olympic rings float above artists during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Inflatable yellow submarines float above artists performing during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A young performer holds a balloon during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict a view of the English countryside during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Drummers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Actors and dancers play Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital staff and patients during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Dancers playing Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital staff perform during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Dancers perform in the Gosh and NHS scene during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Dancers perform in the Gosh and NHS scene during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 at the Olympic Stadium in London.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict a view of the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view of the interior of the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    Performers depict a view of the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A performer in the role of Daniel Craig as James Bond parachutes out of a helicopter with a Union Jack parachute during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    The Union Flag is presented during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view is seen while performers depict a view from the change of the English countryside to the Industrial Revolution during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

  • Opening Ceremony

    A general view is seen during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.

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Filed by Katherine Fung  |