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Exclusive Chart: The Most Watched TV Shows of All Time

America’s Super Bowl is positively peewee compared to these guys.

[Image: 2008 Summer Olympics Beijing via Flickr user U.S. Army]

When it comes to TV in America, the Super Bowl stands supreme. NBA Finals, the World Series, Nascar, Oscars—none of them come close to last year’s pigskin bonanza, which drew in 108.7 million U.S. viewers and 164 million viewers worldwide. And initial reports suggest this year's broadcast may set a new record for the program, as Nielsen pegged the U.S. audience at an all-time high of 111.5 million viewers (worldwide figures haven't been released yet).

But in the long gaze of history, our Super Bowl Sunday looks like a pickup game. When it comes to gathering the world around the tube for a singular TV moment, the spectacle has to be truly international, like the Olympics or World Cup. That, or cater to China’s 1.35 billion citizens.

Here, we've plotted some of the most-watched television events in this Co.Design original infographic.

Totals from some events, such as Princess Diana’s funeral or "Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii," the first-ever global satellite broadcast, are difficult to prove and have been omitted. We measure viewership as a program’s "reach," which indicates how many people tuned in at some point during the broadcast. If you can verify that we’ve missed a TV milestone, sound off with a link in the comments and we’ll add it to the graphic!

*A previous version of this story mislabeled Super Bowl XLVII as Super Bowl XLVI.

Audience Reach (in millions) In the absence of a “Most Watched TV Shows of All Time” database, we scoured the web for candidates, at all times trying our best to compare apples to apples. Below are nine of our finds, which include a few smaller telecasts like the Super Bowl for perspective's sake.
Because no organization collects audience data from every country, we relied on a few estimated figures from countries such as China, or organizations like FIFA or the UEFA. Periodical events are represented by their most popular broadcast. Due to the piecemeal nature of the data, we’ve tried to be as transparent as possible: Click on any bar to visit the source for that datum.