Olympics a huge Saturday draw for BBC

More than 17 million tune in on mightly Blighty night

LONDON — The London Olympics are translating into pure ratings gold for the BBC as U.K. audiences watch the pubcaster’s TV and online services round the clock. Competing webs, meanwhile, especially commercial rival ITV, are taking a ratings hit.

Preliminary estimates show more than 16 million watched Jessica Ennis take the gold medal in the heptathlon on Saturday, which became the most successful day in Olympics history for Great Britain. Later that night, roughly 17.1 million — the largest audience for any competition to date — tuned in to see Mo Farah win the country’s first gold in the 10,000-meter track event.

The big day for the host country also included an audience of 15.6 million for Greg Rutherford’s long jump gold and 9.2 million for the victorious women’s cycling team pursuit.

Following the Opening Ceremonies, which drew a huge 26.9 million viewers on July 27, the first six days of competition at the Games — July 28 through Aug. 2 — saw the audience share at the Corp.’s flagship channel BBC1 spike a hefty 9.2% year-on-year, according to BARB figures.

BBC3, the youth-friendly web that is airing nonstop coverage of the sports extravaganza, increased its share by 4%.

In the same period, ITV was down 4.7% while channels 4 and 5 fell by 1.5% and 1.2%, respectively.

With London 2012 fuelling a national feel-good mood in recession-ravaged Blighty and the Brits exceeding expectations in the medal stakes, the second week of the Olympics looks certain to be still more successful for the Beeb.

The Games are proving hugely popular with hard-to-reach young auds. U.K. ratings specialist Attentional calculated that the percentage of those between the ages of 16 and 34 viewing BBC1 had increased by 12% due to the Olympiad.

The ratings spike for the world’s best known pubcaster is not restricted to the BBC’s TV channels. The pubcaster announced record numbers of people using its sports website, with a peak of 8 million viewers.

Ratings Stateside continue to be very strong. At the halfway point, NBC was averaging 34.5 million viewers in primetime, the most for a non-U.S. Summer Games since 1976.

(Robert Mitchell contributed to this report.)