Super Bowl kicks 'M*A*S*H' off top spot

Saints beating Colts drew 106.5 million people, most viewers in TV history

February 09, 2010|By David Zurawik

The Nielsen Co. estimates that Sunday's Super Bowl game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts was seen by 106.5 million people, making it the most-watched program in TV history, topping the 1983 finale of "M*A*S*H."

The "M*A*S*H" finale was seen by 105.97 million viewers - but that was a time in TV history when there were far fewer TV sets and homes.

The previous Super Bowl record was 98.7 million viewers for last year's game between Arizona and Pittsburgh.

While snowbound viewers in Mid-Atlantic cities such as Baltimore and Washington surely played some role in the new record, it was not a major one, according to analysts who attributed the huge audience to the "compelling narrative" of the underdog Saints coming from behind against the favored Colts much as the city of New Orleans itself came back from Hurricane Katrina. While Washington had the second-largest audience in the nation after New Orleans, it was the only snowed-in city in the top 10 in viewership.

"The Super Bowl remains the premier television event of the year and is one of the few programs in an era of fragmented TV viewership that can still attract a huge national audience," Dave Thomas, a Nielsen executive, said Monday.

"This year's Super Bowl had a compelling narrative, with the underdog New Orleans Saints coming from behind against powerhouse Indianapolis Colts. There was tremendous interest in both the game and the advertisements leading up to last night and the excitement of the game itself translated into record ratings."

Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, said in a statement: "With all the memorable story lines going into Super Bowl XLIV combined with the awesome power of the NFL, we are thrilled with this rating, and I am extremely proud of the way the entire CBS Television Network produced, sold and promoted the most-watched television show in history."

In metered markets, the telecast averaged a 46.4 rating and 68 share, meaning just under one out of every two homes with a TV set was tuned to the game.

The audience, which was 7 percent larger than the one for last year's game, peaked at 50.6 rating and 71 share from 9:30 to 9:45 p.m. During that time period, roughly three out of every four sets in use were tuned to the game.

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