The BBC’s interactive Olympics coverage reached a record 8.96 million users in satellite homes.

BBC director general Mark Thompson says interactive television has come of age.

The figure of nearly nine million represents those viewers that used the BBC interactive Olympics service for more than a minute at some time during the two week event.

Senior BBC executives were reportedly amazed by the figure, which compares very favourably to the 4.1 million that accessed the Wimbledon interactive service and 3.4 million that sampled the interactive coverage of the Commonwealth Games.

The number is a significant gain on the 6.13 million users reported for the first week of the Olympics.

These numbers exclude digital terrestrial and cable television for which interactive usage data is currently unavailable.

Some 7 million UK homes have digital satellite television, while around 3.5 million have digital terrestrial television, and about 2.5 million have digital cable.

The figures show that 58% of the available digital satellite audience pressed red to interact and that over half of those used the service for at least 25 minutes.

The BBC’s broadband Olympics service of live and highlights coverage delivered an estimated 2.8 million requests for streams, while attracted 5.7 million unique users.

“This was the first ever truly interactive Olympics,” said Andrew Thompson of BBC Sport. “The interactive services give our audiences exactly what they wanted across the web and interactive TV: extra choice about what events they watch, when and how they watched them.”

Step change
Jana Bennett, the BBC’s director of television says the Olympics coverage has represented “a real step change” in television viewing.

“We feel there’s a real change in terms of how people are using interactive television,” Bennett is quoted as saying in the London Independent newspaper. “More than 50 per cent of people with red buttons are consuming coverage interactively. It has become part of the expectation that there will be actual programme streams with additional content.”

Coming of age
In an interview in the Guardian newspaper, BBC director general Mark Thompson notes that running red button interactive services such as those for the Olympics is turning out to be as expensive as providing separate channels. Yet since a slow start in 2001, it is becoming de rigueur. “Almost without observers noticing it, interactive television has come of age,” he says.