The 97.5 million viewers who saw the New York Giants’ last-minute win over the New England Patriots made it the most-watched Super Bowl ever and second biggest event in American television history.
Only the “MASH” series finale in 1983, with 106 million viewers, was seen by more people, Nielsen Media Research said Monday. Sunday’s game eclipsed the previous Super Bowl record of 94.08 million, set when Dallas defeated Pittsburgh in 1996.
This year’s game had almost all the ingredients Fox could have hoped for: a tight contest with a thrilling finish involving a team that was attempting to make history as the NFL’s first unbeaten team since 1972.
But the Giants ended New England’s bid for perfection, 17-14. Throughout the game, the teams were never separated by more than a touchdown.
“You might like your equation going in, but you still need some breaks going your way,” said Ed Goren, Fox sports president. The closeness of the game probably added a couple million viewers to the telecast’s average; the audience peaked at 105.7 million viewers between 9:30 and 10 p.m. EST – during the fourth quarter.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning won bragging rights over his brother: Last year’s win by Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts was seen by 93.2 million people, now the third most popular Super Bowl. Manning was set to appear on David Letterman’s “Late Show” on Monday, but travel delays in Arizona pushed his appearance back to Wednesday.
An eye-popping 81 percent of all TV sets on in the Boston area Sunday were tuned in to the game. In New York, the audience share was 67 percent.
There were signs even before game time that Fox could be headed for a record. The opportunity for a team to make history with football’s first 19-0 record was a powerful draw. The Giants and Patriots also had a tight contest in late December that drew strong ratings.
The Giants’ underdog run had also captivated the nation’s largest media market, making up for the only potential weakness in the event as a drawing card: the lack of geographical diversity in the competing teams.
There were past Super Bowls with higher ratings, topped by the 1982 game between San Francisco and Cincinnati (49.1 rating, 73 share). That indicates a larger percentage of homes with televisions were watching the game. But since the American population has increased, along with the number of people with TVs, the actual number of people watching this year was higher.
The Giants-Patriots game’s actual rating (43.2 rating, 65 share) was the highest for any Super Bowl since 2000. That means 43 percent of the nation’s households with TV were tuned in to the game, and 65 percent of the TV sets that were turned on were watching football.
The 97.5 million figure represents the game’s average viewership during any given minute. Nielsen said that a total of 148.3 million watched at least some part of the game.
Goren said ratings were stronger than usual for Fox’s pregame show, crediting the decision to add a show biz element with Ryan Seacrest to a program often usually only hardcore football fans could love.
Fox, a division of News Corp., charged $2.7 million for 30 seconds of advertising time on the game, and that may have been a bargain.
This year’s Super Bowl was one of the few – if only – television events where more people watched the commercials than the program itself, according to digital video recorder makers TiVo Inc.
By measuring live viewership, and the number of people who rewound their DVRs, the most-seen Super Bowl commercial was E-Trade’s stock-talking baby, who ended a financial discussion by spitting up, TiVo said.
“I didn’t see that punch line coming at all,” said Todd Juenger, Tivo’s research chief.
Pepsi’s Justin Timberlake commercial was second, proving fans either like watching Timberlake, or like watching him sail into a mailbox post crotch-first. The Doritos “Mouse Trap” commercial, from an idea submitted by a viewer, was third.
In what may be a sign of the times, TiVo’s top 10 commercials featured only one beer ad and four for either soft drinks or flavored water.