Television Takes Center Stage Once Again

Recovering from another massive television viewing event, I reflect on the most largely viewed global TV events. Although Super Bowl Liii’s overnight ratings were down (as was the excitement of the game itself), the event was still seen by millions across the globe.

Man on the Moon

On July 20, 1969, an estimated 530 million viewers watched the live global broadcast of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Almost 4 years old, I have a vivid memory of that day. While taking a summer class at Greenbriar School in Northbrook, the kids and teachers were all glued to the TV. We were watching it live in ‘living black and white’ from a classroom. It is one of the earliest memories of my life.

The Always Entertaining Ali

During the 1970s to early 1980s, boxer Muhammad Ali drew in between 1 billion and 2 billion global television viewers. Who can forget ABC’s Howard Cosell adding even more drama through his unique style of reporting and announcing during those years? His banter back and forth with Ali to this day may have been some of the most entertaining interviews of all time.

In 1997, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, drew in an estimated 2 billion people globally. This has been the the most watched royal event in the world.

More Blockbuster Television Viewing Events

Sydney’s 2011 New Year’s Eve coverage attracted over 1.1 billion viewers making it the most watched New Year’s Eve telecast in the world.  Incredibly, that number reflects about 16% of the world population. As one of the first major New Year’s celebrations globally each year, Sydney’s coverage is live in all time zones in Asia, Australia and Oceania.

U.S. Sitcoms/Series

U.S. television continues to be one of the most popular forms of entertainment worldwide. This began with soap operas and sitcoms like Dallas, M*A*S*H, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory.

Beginning in the mid 2010s, few cable television programs have ranked among the world’s most watched broadcasts. Series like Game of Thrones, Sherlock and Doctor Who have aired in more than 100 countries.

The Miss Universe and Miss World pageants air in more than 200 countries and attract over 500 million viewers.

Live Sports take Center Stage

Super Bowl Broadcasts captured 19 of the top 20 most-watched television shows of all time in the U.S.  The only non-Super Bowl to crack the Top 20? The series finale of M*A*S*H to this day is the only one to slide in there.

Super Bowl XLIX,  a Patriots/Seahawks championship matchup, remains the most watched American viewed Super Bowl of all tie. The game boasted a whopping 114.4 million American viewers. That battle also featured one of the most exciting endings.  Seattle was driving in the closing seconds to win the game before Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler.

Super Bowls are also one of the world’s most watched television broadcasts along with the UEFA Champions League finals. Each year, they attract around 1 billion viewers around the globe.

The 2008 Summer Olympics holds the record for most watched sporting event, with an average daily audience of 593 million worldwide.

The 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups were watched by an average of 3.2 billion viewers.  That viewing makes it the most watched overall live event in the 21st century.


Today, there are so many options on channels, platforms, when to watch, on what device to watch that traditional television viewing has been sliced into many different pieces. However, in a refreshing kind of way, it is nice to know that on one Sunday in February, most of the TV sets in households around the country and around the globe are all tuned to one major network. We are all watching the same event live – the major sports spectacle of the year.