Olympics and Paralympics are in the top 10 most watched programmes

Featuring performances from Madness, Take That and The Spice Girls as well as athletes from 204 countries, the Closing Ceremony has become the most watched single programme on British television since 1981 (excludes simulcast programmes). Its audience was more than that for Princess Diana's Panorama Special in 1995, Torvill and Dean's Olympic Ice Dance Championship in 1994 and the Only Fools and Horses episode 'Time on Our Hands' that aired in 1996 on BBC1.

Kantar Media analysis reveals that the Top 10 Most Watched Programmes* since 1981 were:     

  1. Olympics 2012 Closing Ceremony (BBC1, 12/8/2012) - 24.465 million
  2. Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 29/12/1996) - 24.35 million
  3. Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony (BBC1, 27/7/2012) - 24.245 million
  4. Torvill and Dean Olympic Ice Dance Championship (BBC1, 21/2/1994) - 23.95 million
  5. World Cup 98: England v Argentina (ITV, 30/6/1998) - 23.78 million
  6. Film: Jaws (ITV, 8/10/1981) - 23.3 million
  7. Film: The Spy Who Loved Me (ITV1, 28/2/1982) - 22.9 million
  8. Panorama Special: Princess Diana (BBC1, 20/11/1995) - 22.78 million
  9. Film: Diamonds are Forever (ITV1, 15/3/1981) - 22.2 million
  10. Film: Crocodile Dundee (BBC1, 25/12/1989) - 21.77 million.

More than twice the number of people who watched the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (11 million) watched the Olympics 2012 Closing Ceremony. The audience was 28 times the 859,000 people who watched the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta USA.  More than 1.4 million people watching either the opening or closing ceremonies did not watch any other sporting coverage.

About the research

  • Kantar Media used its Infosys+ analysis software to analyse UK viewing data going back to 1992.
  • All figures are final reported figures, according to BARB methodology used in each year. Pre 2002 data is taken from the BARB website. 
  • All Olympic programming data is based on analysis of BBC1, BBC2 and BBC3.
  • The Top 10 Most watched programmes since 1981 is based on analysis of single programmes, single broadcasts and single channel.  It excludes simulcast programmes.

About Kantar Media

Kantar Media provides strategic advice and competitive intelligence to the world's leading brands, publishers, agencies and industry bodies, helping them navigate and succeed in a rapidly evolving media industry. This includes analysis of paid media opportunities; counsel on brand reputation, corporate management and consumer engagement through owned media; and, evaluating consumers' reactions in earned media. Kantar Media provides clients with a broad range of insights, from audience research, competitive intelligence, vital consumer behaviour and digital insights, marketing effectiveness and online influence. Our experts currently work with 22,000 companies tracking 3 million brands in 50 countries.