One Giant Leap for Mars Rover, One Small Step for Online TV

NASA JPL control room

A different kind of reality TV

Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Proof that there’s hope for mankind yet: Online streaming coverage of the Curiosity rover’s Mars landing on Sunday attracted more viewers than all but one primetime cable news channel. Ustream, the website that broadcast the landing, told Mashable that its live-stream reached a peak viewership of 500,000, besting CNN, MSNBC, and HLN. A total of 3.2 million people tuned in to the live stream at one point or another.

Proof that we’re still doomed: The one cable news station that beat the Mars landing on Sunday was Fox News.

Regardless, the numbers suggest that a growing number of Americans would rather watch history being made—even if the production value is low and you have to watch it on a computer—than watch a bunch of well-dressed people in makeup and hair gel shouting at one another.

Meanwhile, NBC reports that it served a total of 1.5 million live streams of last week’s women’s gymnastics team final. How many were actually watching at any given time is unclear, but the figure suggests sports fans are at least as enthusiastic about watching events online as science buffs.

One thing Mashable neglects to note, though: None of these numbers compare to the ratings NBC raked in with its tape-delayed Olympics telecast Sunday night, or any other night. (The Olympics’ overwhelming popularity also helps to explain CNN’s unusually crummy viewership.) Online broadcasts may finally be cracking the mainstream, but the boob tube still reigns for now.