SBD/Issue 102/Sports Media

All Eyes On Me: Super Bowl XLIV Sets All-Time TV Viewership Mark


CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV, in which the Saints defeated the Colts 31-17, is the most-watched program in television history, drawing an average of 106.5 million viewers. The previous record was 106 million viewers for the “MASH” series finale in '83. The game earned a 45.0 fast-national Nielsen rating, up 7.1% from a 42.0 for the Steelers’ win over the Cardinals last year in Super Bowl XLIII. It is the highest-rated Super Bowl since a 46.0 for Super Bowl XXX featuring Cowboys-Steelers in '96. Sunday's Super Bowl peaked at a 48.5 rating and 114.1 million viewers from 9:00-9:30pm ET. Nielsen estimates that CBS’ coverage of Super Bowl XLIV was seen in all or part by an estimated 153.4 million viewers, 1% higher than last year’s record high of 151.6 million for NBC (THE DAILY). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes the "MASH" viewership record was "bound to fall given that the total number of U.S. TV viewers keeps expanding -- the U.S. population is 31% larger than it was in 1983." However, Saints-Colts "didn't come close to the record Super Bowl rating" of 49.1 for the 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl XVI in '82 (USA TODAY, 2/9).


WEATHER OR NOT: CBS Corp. President & CEO Les Moonves said breaking the viewership record "speaks to how great broadcast television is," and "speaks volumes about Americans wanting to feel connected again." Moonves: "The Super Bowl is like a national holiday, and it was even more so this year, because of New Orleans being in it. People want to share communal experiences." In DC, Lisa de Moraes writes the ratings are due in part to the weather, as a snowstorm that "buried the mid-Atlantic region" rendered "millions of potential viewers housebound Sunday night." Saints-Colts "did nearly as well" in the DC market as it did in New Orleans "thanks to the weather." The game averaged a 56.0 local rating in DC, behind only a 56.3 in the New Orleans market. de Moraes also notes the premiere of CBS' "Undercover Boss," which followed the Super Bowl, averaged "nearly 39 million viewers -- the third-highest post-Super Bowl audience ever" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/9). In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote "snow-bound viewers in Mid-Atlantic cities like Washington and Baltimore surely played some role in the new record" (, 2/8). In Dallas, Barry Horn wrote, "Don't underestimate ... the power of crummy weather up and down the East Coast." Super Bowl XVI also was played on a day with "lousy weather in the East and Midwest" (, 2/8). 

McManus Pleased Viewer
Record Finally Broken
LAST MEDIA EVENT: CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus: "All of us in the industry are relieved that we don't have to hear that the Super Bowl was the second- or third-highest-rated broadcast in history, three million behind 'MASH.'" In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes a broadcast attracting more than 100 million viewers today is "nearly miraculous." There are "114.9 million TV households now, nearly 32 million more than when the final 'MASH' attracted 106 million viewers," but the media universe is "fractionalized now, with many more TV channels and other ways to amuse ourselves." However, the Super Bowl is "virtually immune to the altered TV landscape," and it "appears insulated from the vagaries of market size that afflict other sports whose championship series show up-and-down viewership patterns." Horizon Media Senior VP and Corporate Research Dir Brad Adgate: "It's amazing that in this era of competition and multiple screens to have an event like this. The Super Bowl is the last media event" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/9). Syracuse Univ. Bleier Center for the Study of Television & Popular Culture Dir Robert Thompson: "Once upon a time, during the network era, we were all feeding from the same cultural trough. That's now completely changed. However, there's still this appetite to share the same cultural glue, and it seems like the Super Bowl is the one that gets to survive." Thompson added even as the Internet "continues to penetrate, and there are more and more cable channels, I think the Super Bowl ratings are pretty secure for quite some time, and I would not say that about any other programming genre" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/9).

NUMBER NOT THAT SURPRISING: DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell writes in an NFL season that has "produced impressive ratings for event programming, the Super Bowl has dwarfed them all." While it is "impressive that the NFL can generate such a big number for a game involving teams from smallish markets," the rating is "not surprising given the ratings surge all season for America's most popular sport." CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack "thinks everything came together to create the monster Super Bowl ratings." Poltrack: "One of the ways the media works is in bringing together this concept of shared experience, and particularly in tough economic times, people really rally around these experiences. Even though there are more and more (viewing) choices out there, certain things transcend just being television to become a phenomenon that we all crave to experience with others" (DAILY VARIETY, 2/9). Katz Television Group VP & Dir of Programming Bill Carroll said the Super Bowl's rating is "not surprising." Carroll: "When you have a once-a-year event, particularly suited to HD, with little to no competition on broadcast or cable, while in this economy it's mostly watched from home, with a blizzard on the East Coast, it would be more surprising if the game did not set a record." McManus said the NFL is the "perfect television property." McManus: "The rest keeps getting fractionalized and the NFL keeps getting more appealing to viewers. It's hard to explain the phenomena" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 2/9).

WANTING THAT SHARED EXPERIENCE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Schechner & Ovide note live sports and award shows "continue to buck long-term declines in broadcast network viewership." Carat Exec VP & Dir of Media Investments Andy Donchin: "They've bucked the trend. As much as we're pulling away and watching different things, there are some things that we want to watch together." Moonves: "We've returned a little bit to the water cooler mentality. This goes back to watching people walk on the moon; Americans like shared experiences." Schechner & Ovide note Saints-Colts "remained close to the end, with more viewers tuning in as it progressed." The snowy weather "in parts of the country and the soft economy may also have boosted ratings, by keeping more people at home." Meanwhile, Moonves said that CBS' contract with the NFL is "profitable, and will remain so including the approximately 4% increase it agreed to pay in a recent extension" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/9).

OUT AND ABOUT: In New Orleans, Dave Walker notes the 56.3 local rating WWL-CBS earned for Super Bowl XLIV "fell short of the all-time mark" in the market, which was a 63.2 set by WVUE-Fox for the January 24 Saints-Vikings NFC Championship game. That number is the "largest local rating in NFL post-season history." New Orleans-based Zehnder Communications Media Dir Joann Habisreitinger said, "Does this mean less people actually watched the Super Bowl than the NFC championship game? I'd bet my life that's not the case. Harbisreitinger said two reasons for the lower Super Bowl number are that Saints fans in Miami were "not contributing to local viewership," while many people likely "gathered in other people's homes or outside of their home (such as in bars) where their viewership was not measured and therefore did not contribute to the Nielsen rating" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 2/9).

Saints-Colts Sets Records In Canada As Well
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Super Bowl XLIV averaged 6.7 million viewers in Canada, making it the most-viewed Super Bowl ever in the country and the second-most viewed telecast on Canadian television since '94. Saints-Colts was up 52% in viewership from last year's Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl XLIII, which drew 4.3 million viewers in Canada. CTV drew 6.025 million viewers Sunday, while French-language network RDS averaged 650,000 viewers. A total of 16.64 million viewers watched some or all of the game on CTV or RDS (CTV). In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich notes the 6.025 million viewers on CTV tops the 5.3 million viewers for the U.S.-Canada IIHF World Junior Championship Gold Medal Game last month and the 5.087 million viewers for the Alouettes-Roughriders Grey Cup in November, the "previous high-water marks since Canadian television went to a new ratings system in August." The only broadcast that has earned more viewers in Canada than Saints-Colts since '94 was the '02 Canada-U.S. Olympic men's hockey Gold Medal game, which drew 10.3 million viewers (TORONTO STAR, 2/9).

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