According to Nielsen, via The Live Feed, about 31 million people watched Michael Jackson’s memorial service on U.S. television. That compares with 35.1 million for Ronald Reagan in 2004 and 33.3 million for Princess Diana in 1997—but it’s also in an era of smaller audiences overall, not to mention Internet video, which presumably added millions to the overall U.S. video audience. Estimates of the international audience approach one billion, though I also assume said estimates approach art rather than science. But doubtless we’re talking a huge global audience.
Jackson’s TV audience fell short of the 37.8 million people who watched Barack Obama’s inauguration in January, but the Drudge Report may yet find a more Obama-hostile stat to link to.