Television is the method by which most of the world watches the Olympic Games. The rights fees paid by television are also critically important to the continued success of the Olympic Movement as they are the primary method of financing the Olympic Games and the activities of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The Olympic Games were televised for the first time in 1936 but with only a few viewers in Germany. The next few Olympiads also saw Olympic Games telecast within the host country but with no significant rights fees. Television first began worldwide broadcasts in 1960 at Rome, with most of Europe seeing the Games live, and the United States viewing them on tape delay. The rights fee paid by the U.S. host television network, CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), was $395,000. By contrast, NBC (National Broadcasting Company), which televised the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in the United States, paid $793,000,000 for the rights to the Games. The rights fees for recent Games were as follows\: 2000 Sydney – U.S. $715 million, and worldwide $1.338 billion; 2002 Salt Lake City – U.S. $545 million, and worldwide $738 million; 2004 Athens – U.S. $793 million, and $1.498 worldwide billion; 2006 Torino – U.S. $613 million, and worldwide $832 million; 2008 Beijing – U.S. $894 million, and worldwide $1.715 billion; 2010 Vancouver – U.S. $820 million, and worldwide $1.187 billion; 2012 London – U.S. $1.226 billion, and worldwide $1.9 billion; and 2014 Sochi – U.S. $775 millions, and worldwide $1.0 billion.
The IOC only keeps a small proportion of Olympic television money, with the bulk of it redistributed to the Organizing Committees, which use it to fund the Olympic Games, and other members of the Olympic Family, mostly the International Federations and Olympic Solidarity, although the US Olympic Committee also receives a share of television money.
While only one country was able to watch the Olympic Games of 1936, 1948, and 1956 on television, 21 nations watched the 1960 Olympics on television, and that number increased to over 200 for the 2004 Olympics. It was estimated that the gross cumulative television audience for the 2000 Olympics was 36.1 billion people, and the average broadcast minute of the Beijing Games (2008) was viewed by 114.3 million people.