The Most-Watched Live TV Events In History

It’s incredible to think that time nearly stood still when one billion people stopped what they were doing to watch major events like George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali in 1974, and Elvis Presley’s live televised concert in 1973. When man landed on the moon for the first time, every TV set sold in America was tuned into the live event. Most people remember watching these major events that left a huge impression on people around the world, and made a cultural impact that went down in history. Where were you when these events broadcasted live? Were you watching?

September 11th Attacks: 4 Million

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The world was stunned when two hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center’s towers on September 11th, 2001. As news of the attack spread, people all over the world stopped what they were doing and turned on the nearest television set. The following day, theGuardian reported that 16 million viewers across Britain watched the live coverage, with 4 million of those tuning in within 10 minutes of the first plane crashing.

Millions more around the world were watching as the second plane flew into the building. Although an exact number isn’t available for viewers worldwide, it’s likely that it reached high into the multi-millions, if not billions.

Sydney’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks: 1.1 Billion People

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Every year Sydney leads the way in welcoming the new year. The famed Opera House and Sydney Harbour are the setting for some of the most beautiful firework displays seen on the 31st of December every year. Hundreds of millions of people watch live annually as the Aussies show us how it’s done, but the peak came in 2011 when an estimated 1.1. billion people watched the event live.

All major cities do something pretty spectacular to celebrate, but out of all of them, Sydney’s dramatic and fantastical extravaganza is the most watched – and rightly so! Will you be watching this year?

Charles and Diana Tie the Knot: 75 Million People

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The British royal family sure know how to throw a darn good wedding. Perhaps the most hotly anticipated union of the century, around 75 million people looked on in awe as the lovebirds said their vows. Six thousand people watched the procession in London, with a further 3,500 in the congregation. It might surprise you to know that as far as numbers go, this particular royal wedding scoops the crown, outshining Will and Kate and Harry and Meghan – but we’ll get to them later. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happily ever after for Prince Charles and Lady Di, as we know too well.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics: 34 Million People

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The Olympics are always a big deal, with cities worldwide vying to host the coveted ceremony. As it’s one of the oldest sporting events in human history, getting the deal isn’t to be sniffed at. Host cities gain millions in economy as well as an international platform. Beijing went above and beyond with their 2008 opening ceremony, a five hour event that celebrated everything to do with Chinese culture. One billion people switched on their sets to watch the show, with around 842 million of those being Chinese citizens. Five million people watched in the UK, 34 million in the USA and around 10 million from Australia, Italy, Germany and France.

Lady Di’s Last Goodbye: 2.5 Billion People

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The shock passing of the “People’s Princess” Diana Princess of Wales, broke hearts the world over. Over the course of the weeks following her death in Paris, the media covered every aspect – none more so than her funeral at Westminster Abbey. One million mourners lined the streets as the fallen mother of two was honored. It’s believed that 2.5 billion people watched Diana’s last goodbye, more than half of the world’s population. To date, this live event has attracted the largest number of viewers, most of whom watched with tears in their eyes as Prince William and Prince Harry solemnly walked behind their mother’s coffin.

2010 Chilean Miner Rescue: One Billion People

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In August of 2010, 33 men were trapped 2,500 feet underground when a cave collapsed at the San-Jose copper-gold mine in northern Chile. While all men survived the initial collapse, they were trapped underneath layers of stone. The miners were kept alive by deliveries of food from rescuers, but there was still a big question mark over how to get them out.

The Chilean government, NASA and other organizations banded together to drill them out. 69 days after the accident, all of the men were rescued one by one, with over one billion people watching from all corners of the world.

The First Live Performance, By Elvis: One Billion People

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Elvis Presley was – and continues to be – one of the biggest names in rock n’ roll history. One of the founding fathers of modern-day celebrity, Elvis sold over a billion albums. These days, singers perform live on television every day, but in 1973 it was unheard of. Presley became the first solo musician to broadcast a live concert from the Honolulu International Center.

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite reached 40 countries, with over a billion people watching the King strut his stuff. Not only was it a landmark event in history, but it has yet to be beat.

The 2015 Cricket World Cup: One Billion

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You may think that cricket isn’t as popular of a sport as football or baseball, but you’d be wrong. Some countries think it’s a pretty big deal. In 2015 longtime rivals India and Pakistan went head to head, with India trying to defend their 2011 trophy. The fixture lasted one day and was played in Adelaide, Australia, with over one billion people eagerly watching India defeat Pakistan.

Most of the viewing took place in the two competing countries, but it was watched heavily across the globe, too. Unfortunately, India wouldn’t take home the World Cup again though, losing out to Australia in the long run.

The 1961 Moon Landing: 530 Million People

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In 1969 there was nothing on TV that could beat one of history’s most widely celebrated triumphs. The team, led by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, televised the landing to the world. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, telling 530 million people watching at home: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Only 47 million American houses had televisions at the time, with most people throwing viewing parties to watch the big event take place live. To date it’s one of the most important live events ever broadcast.

The 1974 Rumble in the Jungle: One Billion

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In 1974, the world was primed and ready to watch two of the biggest names in boxing take to the ring to battle it out. George Foreman, the undefeated world heavyweight champ, was set against Muhammed Ali. Many thought that Foreman would come out the clear winner, but Ali surprised him by switching up his style in a way that confused his opponent.

After knocking Foreman out in the 8th round, Ali proudly reclaimed the title. Over one billion people watched the fight, which took place at 3 am local time in the Republic of Congo in front of 60,000 spectators.

1985 Live Aid: 1.9 Billion People

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The original Live Aid concert was the brainchild of musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure. The aim was to get musicians from the world to participate in a concert to raise much-needed funds for the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Two concerts took place at the same time, one in Wembley Stadium, London, and another at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.

The concerts were watched by 150 nations and approximately 1.9 billion people. What’s more, the events raised millions of dollars to aid those direly in need of resources in Ethiopia. Live Aid continues to do important work more than thirty years on.

1990 The Wall Concert: One Billion

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Roger Waters, one of the founding members of uber-famous rock band Pink Floyd, organized one of the most elaborate concerts in history in 1990. The Berlin wall had fallen at the end of 1989, and Waters was asked to get the show together for charity. With artists such as Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper, Van Morrison, Bryan Adams and Sinead O’Connor performing, over one billion television viewers watched on in awe.

Following on from the impressively orchestrated event, Waters released a live double-album of the performance which was certified platinum by the RIAA. Although many icons were invited to participate in the festivities, Waters’ Pink Floyd bandmates were not.

Michael Jackson Memorial Service: 2.5 Billion

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When Michael Jackson died suddenly in 2009, he was about to embark on a world tour. Fans worldwide were looking forward to the triumphant return of the King of Pop, but sadly, it wasn’t to be. Jackson was found dead after his doctor had administered a number of drugs to help the singer sleep on June 25th.

The shock was felt around the world, but fans were given a final chance to say goodbye to the singer when concert promoters organized a memorial at The Staples Center. The event saw big names like Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder perform and was broadcast around the world. News sources estimated the worldwide viewing figures at a staggering 2.5 billion.

Barack Obama’s Inauguration: One Billion

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Barack Obama made history as the first black President of the United States in 2009. His inauguration saw a record attendance of people lining the street. When everything is considered, it was one of the most-observed events ever by a global audience. Over 37 million people watched the poignant ceremony on their sets in America alone, as Obama and his right-hand man Joe Biden were sworn into office.

Currently, POTUS Donald Trump claimed that his inauguration was the most watched ever, but he was down 7 million in comparison to Barack. Ronald Reagan holds the current title with 41.8 million. As for worldwide numbers, Obama comes in at a cool one billion.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Wedding: One Billion

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You might have gathered that royal weddings don’t go unnoticed. When Prince Harry announced his engagement to Suits actress Meghan Markle, a fairytale was born. The nuptials took place at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018, with some very high-profile guests in attendance. Prince William served as the best man, while Princess Charlotte and Prince George also had a role to play.

There’s not much competition between the two royal ceremonies, with Prince Harry and Meghan reaching a cool one billion viewers, thus matching Prince William and Kate’s audience. Meghan went for a simple Givenchy wedding gown though, sparking the debate over who wore the best dress.

Assassination of John F. Kennedy: 600 Million People

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When John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie traveled to Texas, they thought they were simply going to smooth over some political tensions in the Democratic Party. Little did they know that it would end in disaster. While traveling through downtown Dallas the President was shot and killed by an unknown assailant later revealed as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Within minutes the media jumped on board with live coverage, with millions of viewers tuning in every second. It’s believed that around 600 million people watched the events unfold directly after the President’s murder as they waited for confirmation of his passing.

2017 Miss Universe Pageant: 600 Million

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As far as beauty pageants go, Miss Universe is the creme de la creme. The show has been widely popular since its conception in 1952. Over the years, the event has become one of the most widely viewed annual broadcasts. The 2017 competition was viewed by 5.21 million people in the US, with worldwide numbers estimated at approximately 600 million.

The feature regularly attracts a great number of watchers, although ratings have been decreasing slightly over the last few years due to scheduling conflicts with the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards. Steve Harvey certainly upped the buzz around the contest when he announced the wrong winner in 2016.

The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, 186 Million

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Every year countries from all over Europe jump on the music bandwagon, each putting forward a musician or group to try and take home the Eurovision Song Contest trophy. Viewing figures stay consistently high, with 2018 delivering around 186 million in ratings across the world. Winning country Israel had its largest audience since 2005 with over one million, while the UK had 5 million watchers tune in at home.

That’s pretty good going for a show with some downright terrible music. Over 70% of Cyprus watched the questionable crooners, with 95.3% of Iceland also switching on their sets to catch a tune.

Prince William and Kate’s Wedding: 1 Billion People

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The world went bananas when Prince William and Kate Middleton finally tied the knot in a ceremony fit for a queen in 2011. Royal weddings don’t come around often, but when they do, they take the world by storm. The loved-up pair said their vows at Westminster Abbey.

Around one billion people watched the live event all over the world, with every aspect of the day – despite the couple’s private wedding party of course – being covered by the media. Thousands of people lined the streets to watch the wedding procession as it made its way through London.

1972 Munich Massacre: One Billion People

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During the 1972 Olympic Games, eleven members of the Israeli team were held hostage and eventually murdered by terrorist organization Black September. As the hostage negotiations were in play, TV channels broadcast everything from right outside, meaning that the group could see police officers preparing their attacks by watching the television inside. At one point two of the hostages were allowed out onto the balcony to talk to German officials, which was all captured on live television.

Approximately a billion people watched the events unfold, resulting in an extremely botched rescue attempt by German officials who previously refused an Israeli Special Ops team – instead used police officers who “shot competitively at the weekends.”

Muhammed Ali Memorial Service: One Billion

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Superstar boxer Muhammed Ali could still garner huge ratings even in death. Ali had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for a number of years before his passing and personally planned his funeral several years prior. The public memorial service was held on June 10, 2016, in Louisville, with pallbearers including Will Smith, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, and his former opponent George Foreman.

Approximately one billion people watched as the former POTUS Bill Clinton gave a reading, as did the President at the time Barack Obama. The moving ceremony touched the hearts of viewers worldwide as they mourned the loss of a cultural icon.