The 10 Most-Watched Events In Television History


Getting millions or even billions of people around the world to do the same thing at the same time is no small feat. Every once in a while, though, a special event occurs that demands a large percentage of the world’s population to pay attention. The most-watched TV events in history drew in staggering numbers of diverse viewers.

Popular television programs can gauge what’s interesting on a global level. Though it’s difficult to compile perfectly accurate statistics on TV viewership, these events attracted hundreds of millions of people to their televisions.


President John F. Kennedy’s Funeral – 1963

Photo:  Getty Images: STAFF / Staff / AFP

Estimated Number of Viewers: 180,000,000

On November 22, 1963, Americans learned that the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated by a sniper in Dallas, TX. Three days later, the funeral took place, and an estimated 180 million people tuned in to watch the ceremony. Ninety-three percent of American homes equipped with a television watched the event.

Additionally, about 250,000 people attended the funeral in Washington, DC, and more than 800,000 people lined the road to watch the funeral procession.

Prince William And Catherine Middleton’s Wedding – 2011

Photo:  Getty Images: AFP / Stringer / AFP

Estimated Number of Viewers: 300,000,000

On April 29, 2011, several hundred million people tuned in to watch Catherine Middleton marry Prince William at the Westminster Abbey in London, England. The viewer count includes millions of people across 188 countries who had streamed the royal wedding on YouTube.

Cricket World Cup Semi-Final (India Vs. Pakistan) – 2011

Photo:  Getty Images: Graham Crouch / Stringer / Getty Images Sport

Estimated Number of Viewers: 400,000,000

When sports rivals India and Pakistan were slated to face off in the second semifinal of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011, fans from both countries tuned in to watch. The match was held on March 30 at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali in India. The stadium was filled with roughly 35,000 passionate fans, including celebrities, diplomats, and prime ministers from both India and Pakistan.

The match disappointed many fans of the Pakistan team, as India took the lead and moved on to the final. There, India faced off against Sri Lanka and won.

Spring Festival Gala – 2012

Photo:  Getty Images: VCG / Contributor / Visual China Group

Estimated Number of Viewers: 498,000,000

The Spring Festival Gala is an annual special produced by China Central Television (CCTV) to celebrate the Chinese New Year; it first aired in 1983. Recognized by Guinness World Records as one of the most-watched variety shows in the world, the program is incredibly popular.

In 2012, roughly 498 million viewers, primarily from China, tuned in to watch the gala.

Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service – 2009

Photo: Getty Images: Pool / Pool / Getty Images Entertainment

Estimated Number of Viewers: 500,000,000

On July 7, 2009, which marked 12 days after legendary pop star Michael Jackson passed away, a public memorial service was held in his honor at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Jackson’s concert promoter, AEG Live, gave away 17,500 free service tickets to fans all over the world. Within 24 hours, more than 1.6 million people applied for the passes online.

In addition to the thousands in attendance, millions more watched from their own homes. The memorial also featured performances by Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, and others. Estimates suggest more than 500 million fans watched.

Apollo 11 Moon Landing – 1969

Photo: Shutterstock

Estimated Number of Viewers: 500,000,000

On July 20, 1969, more than a half-billion people tuned in to watch US astronauts land on the moon. At the time, that landing had the largest television audience in history. Viewers around the globe watched Neil Armstrong declare, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Cameras mounted to the moon’s surface by the Apollo 11 team had broadcast the historic moment live. The astronauts left the moon with about 50 pounds of lunar rocks and soil. On the surface, they placed a US flag and a plaque stating, “We came in peace for all mankind.”

FIFA World Cup Final (Italy Vs. France) – 2006

Photo: Getty Images: Eddy LEMAISTRE / Contributor / Corbis Sport

Estimated Number of Viewers: 715,000,000

On July 9, the 2006 FIFA World Cup final took place at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany. Italy and France faced off to determine the winner of that year’s World Cup. The match finished 1-1 in overtime, but Italy managed to beat France on penalties for the win.

Attended by 69,000 fans, the match boasted a viewing audience of more than 715 million people, as Italy took its first world title since 1982.

Aloha From Hawaii – 1973

Photo: Getty Images: NBC / Contributor / NBCUniversal

Estimated Number of Viewers: 1,000,000,000

On January 14, 1973, Elvis Presley headlined a major concert, performing live in Honolulu, HI. Broadcast around the world via satellite, the concert reportedly attracted about one billion viewers in 40 countries.

The NBC show was the most expensive entertainment special ever produced at the time – it cost about $2.5 million.

The Chilean Miners’ Rescue – 2010

Photo: Getty Images: LatinContent / Stringer / LatinContent WO

Estimated Number of Viewers: 1,000,000,000

In August 2010, 33 miners were trapped in a mine in the Atacama region of northern Chile. A ramp collapsed, causing the catastrophe. Planning for the rescue operation lasted months, and it took nearly a full day to recover the victims. More than a billion people watched the proceedings.

The miners were trapped underground for a total of 69 days, and for more than two weeks, communication was virtually impossible. During that period, the men had to ration two days’ worth of emergency food supplies until officials could make contact again.

Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony – 2008

Photo: Shutterstock

Estimated Number of Viewers: 2,000,000,000

More than two billion viewers tuned in on August 8 to watch the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. That number is nearly a fourth of the world’s population. The program lasted more than four hours and featured roughly 15,000 performers from all around the world. It cost more than $100 million to produce and was praised for its showmanship.

Reportedly, in the Asia-Pacific region, more than five in 10 people tuned in to watch the ceremony.

One reply on “The 10 Most-Watched Events In Television History”

Gee, I missed watching every one of the above except JFK’s funeral and that’s because it was on all three channels and there was nothing left to do even though school was out for the day…

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