U.K. Viewers Flock to BBC's Ad-Free Airing of Olympics

Almost Half the Population Watched Opening Ceremony, and Up to Two-Thirds of Audience Share Is Going to Games

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The BBC's live, multi-layered Olympic coverage is dominating viewing figures in the U.K., with audience share up to 64.5% for the men's 100-meter final on Sunday night, as 20 million Brits -- out of a total population of 60 million -- watched Usain Bolt win the gold medal for Jamaica.

Jessica Ennis
Jessica Ennis Credit: Getty Images

The opening ceremony on July 27 was watched by 27 million in the U.K., while audiences peaked at 17.1 million on Saturday night when Jessica Ennis -- Team GB's "face of the games" -- won gold in the triathlon and another Brit, Mo Farah, won the 10,000 meters.

But unlike in the U.S., where NBC has reaped more than $1 billion in ad sales for the summer games, a big increase from the $850 million in ads sold for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, TV advertisers aren't benefiting at all in the U.K. The BBC is supported by an annual $225 license fee per household, and doesn't take any ads. In fact, TV advertisers are suffering in the U.K. because commercial broadcasters' audience share is tumbling during the games.

It's not only regular broadcast TV that is attracting so many viewers. BBC Sport has seen an 80% uplift in browsers across PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV.

The BBC Sport Online site had a record week (Monday, July 30 to Sunday, August 5), with 24.5 million unique U.K. browsers across the week, and a further 10.5 million international unique browsers. The BBC's Sport Site's previous record was 5.7 million U.K. and 7.4 million global browsers.

As well as broadcast TV and web streaming, BBC TV is also managing 24 "red button" streams, which allow viewers to watch any and every sport at the games live at the press of a button on their remote controls. By the end of the first week, 17 million people had watched one of the red button streams -- which are simple to navigate -- for at least 15 minutes. Every single red button stream has gotten at least 100,000 viewers at some point, justifying the BBC's decision to show every sport live from every venue throughout the two weeks of the games.

More than 1.5 million people had downloaded the BBC Olympics mobile phone app by Aug. 3, and the website has seen 29 million requests for its interactive video streams across bbc.co.uk/sport. The video of Team GB cyclist Bradley Wiggins' gold medal ride was the single most popular at 729,000 requests.

The BBC has been generally praised for its comprehensive coverage of the games, which are shown almost without a break on the main channel, BBC1, and without any break at all on digital channel BBC3.

Team GB's stellar performance at their home games -- where they sit comfortably at third on the medal table behind China and the U.S. -- has also encouraged viewers to switch on in such huge numbers.

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro mark a return to commercial broadcasting in the host country, but in an unusual arrangement, three broadcasters -- Globo, Record and Band -- will share the rights to air the games in Brazil.

Contributing: Claudia Penteado

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