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Back in the day, there were few options for what to watch on a Friday night. There were just a couple of channels available on that hefty old box with the cable ears we used to call a TV. Hence, today, with the abundance of streaming services, TV channels, and social media platforms that divide society's attention, it's getting increasingly harder to beat prior records set by most watched TV events. Still, quite a few occasions in recent years made it among the most watched events on TV.

Indeed the most watched TV event list is dominated by the biggest sporting events in the world that happen less than annually, like the World Cup and the Olympics. Yet, many news events are also among the most watched events in TV history. Unfortunately, when it comes to news, bad news dominates the headlines. Thus, many of the biggest historical events broadcast on TV were, in fact, memorial services. Queen Elizabeth II's final farewell was the most recent and most prominent one. In fact, according to the media, with an estimated figure of 5.1 billion, the Queen's funeral became the most-watched TV event in history.

Unfortunately, that's the case with every other most-watched event on TV — there's likely a not-too-happy reasoning behind it. Still, plenty of occasions worth celebrating, such as nuptials, concerts, charity events, and legendary matches, also make up the list. Below, all in one place, we collected the biggest events in history that drew millions, even billions, of spectators worldwide. Do you remember watching any of them live? Let us know, and share your experience!

#1

Queen Elizabeth II Funeral: 5.1 Billion Viewers

Queen Elizabeth II Funeral: 5.1 Billion Viewers

The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on September 19 was the first British monarch service to be broadcast on television. It was estimated that more than 5 billion people watched the historic occurrence.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Report

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David Green
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This number is nonsense and has been discredited by the BBC and others. No way did 63% of the world's population watch it. The more likely number is around 50 to 100 million.

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#2

Funeral Of Lady Diana: 2 Billion Viewers

Funeral Of Lady Diana: 2 Billion Viewers

Only three people, Lady Diana, Zinedine Zidane, and Muhammad Ali, have been featured on this list more than once. Unfortunately for Diana, her second occasion was her funeral, which was held on September 6, 1997.

Maxwell Hamilton Report

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Lily from England
Community Member
11 months ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Love how people are questioning the queen’s figures - but not Diana’s.

#3

Sept. 11 Terror Attacks: 2 Billion Viewers

Sept. 11 Terror Attacks: 2 Billion Viewers

Many can still clearly recall where they were on Tuesday morning when the first bits of news began to circulate. Media coverage started when American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 in the morning. Three more planes crashed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania within an hour and fifteen minutes. The deadliest terrorist attack in human history was broadcast to a global audience of two billion people.

pingnews.com Report

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James016
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I was in Thailand when 9/11 happened. Was watching the news and saw the 2nd plane hit live as it happened.

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#4

1996 Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3.6 Billion Viewers

1996 Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3.6 Billion Viewers

Muhammad Ali was the highlight of the Opening Ceremony of the Atlanta Summer Olympics on July 19, 1996. The legendary boxer, whose name became synonymous with the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” lit the Olympic flame while in a heavy battle with Parkinson’s disease. Many will never forget this extraordinary, surprising, and gasp-inducing historical moment.

Australian Paralympic Committee Report

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#5

2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3 Billion Viewers

2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony: 3 Billion Viewers

It’s no coincidence that the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony occurred on August 8, 2008 (8/8/08), as the number 8 is considered the luckiest of numbers in China. On that particular day, 15,000 performers put on an incredible performance. In addition to appearing to be walking on a cloud while lighting the torch, the Chinese also made the clouds outside the Beijing National Stadium disappear. They literally changed the weather, so there was no rain throughout the event.

Marc van der Chijs Report

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Silvermidnight
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

"The Chinese are magic and amazing. They can change the weather. 100% chance that they have a magical school."

#6

Live Aid: 1.9 Billion Viewers

Live Aid: 1.9 Billion Viewers

The Live Aid concert, held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985, attracted nearly 2 billion spectators. The shows attracted viewers from 150 nations and prompted simultaneous concerts in other countries.

Squelle , Live Aid Report

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#7

2002 World Cup Final, Brazil vs. Germany: 2 Billion Viewers

2002 World Cup Final, Brazil vs. Germany: 2 Billion Viewers

The 2002 World Cup Final featured the battle between Brazil and Germany. Oddly enough, it was their first time facing off in the Finals despite at least one of these teams appearing in all but five of the 18 Finals since WWII.

Reto Stauffer Report

#8

Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II: 2 Billion Viewers

Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks II: 2 Billion Viewers

This was the last fight of Ali’s career, ranking amongst the most-viewed TV events in history. After just eight professional fights, Spinks won the title of Undisputed Heavyweight Champion. He was the only man ever to take a world title away from Ali in the ring.

Top Rank Boxing Report

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Jason Boyd
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This seems surprisingly high to me. Box Rec estimates this at 90 million - https://boxrec.com/wiki/index.php/Leon_Spinks_vs._Muhammad_Ali_(2nd_meeting)

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#9

Live 8: 2 Billion Viewers

Live 8: 2 Billion Viewers

A charity event was organized on the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. To raise money to end poverty worldwide, the G8 countries and South Africa performed simultaneous concerts on July 2, 2005. The "Make Poverty History" campaign aimed to raise $50 billion for aid to developing countries, with half of that amount going to Africa. Unfortunately, the G8 nations' promise of that goal mostly fell short.

Ricjl , Live 8 Report

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#10

‘The Wall: Live In Berlin’: 1 Billion Viewers

‘The Wall: Live In Berlin’: 1 Billion Viewers

In a July 1989 interview, Roger Waters stated that he would only perform The Wall live once more "if the Berlin Wall came down." Four months later, it did. On July 21, 1990, Pink Floyd performed a rock extravaganza just eight months after the Berlin Wall came down, allowing East and West Germans to freely cross to the other's side. 

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0722-405 Report

#11

Michael Jackson Memorial Service: 2 Billion Viewers

Michael Jackson Memorial Service: 2 Billion Viewers

Regarding the number of TV spectators, the King of Pop triumphed over the King of Rock. Still, Michael Jackson would have probably chosen to defeat Elvis with a music battle rather than his memorial. Two billion people tuned in to watch the tribute being paid to Jackson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on July 7, 2009.

peasant_dave Report

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#12

1998 World Cup Final, France vs. Brazil: 2 Billion Viewers

1998 World Cup Final, France vs. Brazil: 2 Billion Viewers

On July 12, 1998, almost eight years before the infamous headbutt, Zidane was nothing short of extraordinary, scoring two goals to lead France to a 3-0 victory and its first World Cup title.

David Ruddell Report

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#13

Prince Charles And Lady Diana Spencer Wedding: 1 Billion Viewers

Prince Charles And Lady Diana Spencer Wedding: 1 Billion Viewers

The "wedding of the century" at the time was Prince Charles and Lady Diana's "fairytale" nuptials which took place on July 29, 1981. That day, Lady Diana transformed from the assistant to a nursery teacher to the Princess of Wales and the mother of the future King of England.

© Elke Wetzig/CC-BY-SA Report

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#14

Apollo 11 Moon Landing: 600 Million Viewers

Apollo 11 Moon Landing: 600 Million Viewers

There were 3.61 billion people on Earth when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon at 8:17 p.m. UTC on July 20, 1969. 600 million of them tuned in to see Armstrong take his first steps on the moon, making up an incredible 1/6 of all humanity.

nasa.gov Report

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#15

Ali vs. Larry Holmes, ‘The Last Hurrah’: 2 Billion Viewers

Ali vs. Larry Holmes, ‘The Last Hurrah’: 2 Billion Viewers

On October 2, 1980, Ali entered the ring to face Larry Holmes, the WBC Heavyweight Champion. At Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he stood toe-to-toe against Holmes in a ten-round battle before his manager stopped it.

Boxing Dept Report

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Jason Boyd
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Nup, world population at the time was estimated 4.4 billion. Who is making up these numbers?

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#16

Prince Harry And Meghan Markle Wedding: 1.9 Billion Viewers

Prince Harry And Meghan Markle Wedding: 1.9 Billion Viewers

Approximately one in four people watched the most recent Royal Wedding, which took place on May 19, 2018. As is custom, Prince Harry received his official peerages, or titles, before the wedding.

Londisland Report

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Dizzie D
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

And what a comical thing that was to watch. Totally bonkers. Her dress? Bleurgh.

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#17

1984 L.A. Olympics Opening Ceremony: 180 million

1984 L.A. Olympics Opening Ceremony: 180 million

On July 28, 1984, in Los Angeles, the opening ceremony included one of the most lavish productions in Olympic history. President Ronald Reagan welcomed the world and signaled the beginning of the games as almost 100,000 spectators crammed into the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch.

Ken Lund Report

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#18

Chilean Miners Rescue: 1 Billion Viewers

Chilean Miners Rescue: 1 Billion Viewers

A ramp that was 2,300 feet underground in the Chilean Copiapo goldmine collapsed on August 5, 2010, trapping 33 miners. The population of Chile and the rest of the world questioned whether there were any survivors. Then, on August 22, a note saying, "We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us," was found. Despite increased rescue efforts, the miners were imprisoned for nearly two more months. On October 13, the 33 miners were extracted from the ground one by one as a billion people paused to watch coverage of the 23-hour rescue.

Hugo Infante/Government of Chile Report

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SnapStingray687
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

The drill down to the shelter went off course 2 times and the third one made it if I remember correctly.

#19

Ali vs. Antonio Inoki: 1.4 Billion Viewers

Ali vs. Antonio Inoki: 1.4 Billion Viewers

Arguably the oddest battle Ali ever took on is this one. Yet, it is significant because it is regarded as the first mixed martial arts match to ever take place on a global scale. Antonio Inoki was a Japanese wrestler fixed on conquering champions with other fighting disciplines to advance his own fighting style. Until a few days before the fight, Ali believed he was participating in a carefully staged fight. However, the fictitious match turned into a real one when he refused.

Official Boxing Gods Report

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#20

2010 World Cup Final, Spain vs. Netherlands: 1 Billion Viewers

2010 World Cup Final, Spain vs. Netherlands: 1 Billion Viewers

For the first time in 32 years, neither Brazil nor Germany was present in the 2010 World Cup Final. The Netherlands accumulated nine yellow cards and a red card, compared to Spain's five, making it the tournament's dirtiest game. Four minutes later, the game was over, and Spain had won their first and, so far, only World Cup.

Antonio Olmedo Report

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#21

2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, India vs. Pakistan: 1 Billion Viewers

2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, India vs. Pakistan: 1 Billion Viewers

The entire cricketing community tuned in to see the semi-final match between the Indians and Pakistanis on February 15, 2015, at the Cricket World Cup. Although Pakistan had more victories overall, India took the victory this time.

Tourism Victoria Report

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#22

Ali vs. Frazier III, ‘Thrilla In Manila’: 1 Billion Viewers

Ali vs. Frazier III, ‘Thrilla In Manila’: 1 Billion Viewers

Before this battle which took place on October 1, 1975, Joe Frazier and Ali squared off twice, with a 1-1 tie. The two engaged in 14 brutal rounds of combat in 120-degree heat before Frazier threw in the towel due to face swelling that thwarted him from seeing. 

Top Rank Boxing Report

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#23

2006 World Cup Final, France vs. Italy: 1 Billion Viewers

2006 World Cup Final, France vs. Italy: 1 Billion Viewers

The 2006 World Cup Final is not remembered for the things it should be. On June 30, 2006, during the final, Zinedine Zidane hit Marco Materazzi in the chest with his head, which caused Zidane to receive a red card and be dismissed from the game. What Materazzi said to Zidane to push him to behave as such caused a lot of debate. 

David Ruddell Report

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#24

Prince William And Kate Middleton Wedding: 350 Million Viewers

Prince William And Kate Middleton Wedding: 350 Million Viewers

Kate Middleton was crowned the Catherine Duchess of Cambridge on April 29, 2011. The wedding was so extensively publicized because it was aired on YouTube to 188 different countries worldwide. Apparently, more than 350 million were watching the event on television.

John Pannell Report

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Khall Khall
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I don't think you get 'crowned' to a duchy. Maybe if it's what is making you a royal? But just being a duchess doesn't get you a crown afaik...

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#25

Muhammad Ali Memorial Service: 1 Billion Viewers

Muhammad Ali Memorial Service: 1 Billion Viewers

Muhammad Ali, a former heavyweight champion of the world who won the title three times, passed away on June 3, 2016. A week later, on June 10, a memorial service was held to honor him. Muhammad Ali was unparalleled in the history of sportsmen when it came to their capacity to draw crowds.

RCJ21483 Report

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#26

John F. Kennedy’s Funeral: 180 Million Viewers

John F. Kennedy’s Funeral: 180 Million Viewers

According to estimates, 93 percent of American television owners watched the funeral. Then, on November 25, 1963, the funeral captured not just the country's but also the world's attention.

Old Guard History Report

#27

Ali vs. Foreman, ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’: 1 Billion Viewers

Ali vs. Foreman, ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’: 1 Billion Viewers

In addition to holding the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World, Foreman also had a 40-bout winning streak, making him a 4-1 favorite coming into the battle. In the fight, Ali radically changed his strategy and used what is now known as the "rope-a-dope" to defeat Foreman.

jenikirbyhistory.getarchive.net Report

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#28

‘Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite’: 1 Billion Viewers

‘Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite’: 1 Billion Viewers

On January 14, 1973, "Aloha from Hawaii" was broadcast by satellites to a billion people in 40 different nations. Elvis never performed outside North America because Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, was an illegal immigrant. The Colonel made up for it by creating the first solo artist entertainment special to be broadcast live around the globe. Despite Super Bowl VII airing simultaneously, it still drew a billion viewers.

Brett Jordan , Elvis Presley Report

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#29

2018 World Cup Final, France vs. Croatia: 1 Billion Viewers

2018 World Cup Final, France vs. Croatia: 1 Billion Viewers

In their first World Cup Final appearance, Croatia tried to beat France on July 15, 2018, in front of more than 1 billion spectators. While France triumphed in the final 4-2 with the final goal from Kylian Mbappe, Luka Modric received the Golden Ball award for the tournament's most excellent performance.

MX Report

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#30

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

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

Every year on December 31, some of the most stunning fireworks displays transpire in front of Sydney's renowned Opera House and Sydney Harbour. Hundreds of millions of people annually tune in to watch the Australians celebrate. Still, the record attendance was in 2011, when an estimated 1.1 billion people tuned in.

Hai Linh Truong Report

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