LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC got off to a bumper ratings start with its coverage of the London Olympics, despite complaints from Americans that they had to wait hours to watch TV coverage of the opening ceremony.
NBC said on Saturday that according to early ratings data, its four-hour broadcast of Friday's whimsical and patriotic opening ceremony earned the biggest U.S. TV audience for an Olympics held outside U.S. soil.
The network, which tape-delayed TV footage of the ceremony until its prime time evening hours, said Friday's audience was about seven percent bigger than the 34.9 million who watched the Beijing opening ceremony in 2008.
Precise figures are expected later on Saturday but audiences were expected to be below those for the Olympics held in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
NBCUniversal paid $1.18 billion for the U.S. rights to the London Olympics. It is streaming all the sporting events live online and boosting its TV coverage of the 2012 games to more than 5,500 hours.
But Americans took to Twitter in droves on Friday when they realized that the London opening ceremony could not be seen until some four hours after it finished in the British capital.
CNN talk show host Piers Morgan, who was tweeting details about the ceremony from London, said on Friday: "Laughable that America is yet to start watching the Olympic ceremony on TV. Seriously."
NBC Sports spokesman Christopher McCloskey said the opening ceremonies "are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them."
In a decision that caused controversy in Britain, NBC cut a musical tribute from the opening ceremony for the victims of the July 2005 extremist attacks in London buses and trains. Instead the network showed a brief interview with Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps by "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.
NBC did not immediately return calls for comment on the matter.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Vicki Allen)