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Super Bowl XLVI Sets U.S. Television Viewership Record

For the third year in a row, the Super Bowl was the most-watched television program in history:

NEW YORK—For the third consecutive year, the Super Bowl set a record as the most-watched television show in U.S. history.

The Nielsen Co. said Monday that an estimated 111.3 million people watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots on Sunday night. That narrowly beat the 111 million who watched Green Bay’s win over Pittsburgh last year.

NBC was blessed by a competitive game between two teams that played in one of the Super Bowl’s most memorable contests four years ago, with one of them representing the largest media market in the country.

The game wasn’t over until Tom Brady’s last-second heave into the end zone dropped onto the turf. That play itself had the biggest audience of any play in the game, according to the digital video recorder maker Tivo. Nielsen said 117.7 million people were watching during the last half hour of the game.

The last two Super Bowls, along with the 2010 game between New Orleans and Indianapolis and the finale of “M-A-S-H” in 1983, are the only programs to exceed 100 million viewers in U.S. television history.

Madonna has some bragging rights, too. Her halftime show was seen by an estimated 114 million people — a higher average than the game itself — and was the most-watched Super Bowl halftime entertainment show on record, Nielsen said.

Given the plethora of television and other entertainment offerings, it’s likely that only other Super Bowls will break this record in the future.  Interestingly, four of the five most-watched television broadcasts, and five of the top six, are Super Bowls that have taken place between 2008 and 2012.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    I think that there are more viewers available to stare at the flickering images now-a-days? That’s one reason the numbers increase.

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  2. @John Peabody:

    Yes and no. As James pointed out two years ago when he noted that SB 44 had become the first program to surpass the M*A*S*H finale on the total viewership list, market segmentation and the fact that there is so much on at one time make it much less likely that a given program will have the massive number of viewers that major television events used to get in the days when there were only three television networks plus two or three local independent stations depending on where you lived (growing up in the NYC area we had the networks, plus three independent stations)

    If you take a look at the series finales of every major television series after M*A*S*H, for example, you’ll see that the viewership numbers went consistently down. Because there were other things to watch.

    Just to pick two examples — The Seinfeld Finale had 76 million viewers. The Friends finale had 52.5 million.

    Yes, there are more viewers. But there’s also more to watch. So it’s not surprising that the one event that is consistently getting 1970s-era viewership numbers is the Super Bowl, which nobody counterprograms against

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  3. Ernieyeball says:

    Madonna has some bragging rights, too. Her halftime show was seen by an estimated 114 million people — a higher average than the game itself — and was the most-watched Super Bowl halftime entertainment show on record, Nielsen said.

    Good for her!
    And good for all those Samsons she put to work pullin’ her on that fancy wagon to begin an epic performance.
    After several HD reviews on You Tube it looks like only 18 in the phalanx of 54 bruisers are actually hitched to the cart she is riding on. I guess the other three dozen iron men are there to take over in case one of their comrades passed out from the pots of smoke the gals are carrying at the front of the parade!
    Ya gotta’ wonder though…just what did she do for those tough guys to make them want to pull her around like that?

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  4. Anderson says:

    @Ernieyeball: Paid them.

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  5. ernieyeball says:

    @Anderson: I wonder if they got the same scale as the porters who carried Lady GaGa about in an egg?

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