A great season for the National Football League ended Sunday before one of the largest primetime audiences on record.
The Indianapolis Colts’ 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears averaged a huge 93.15 million viewers on CBS, according to preliminary Nielsen nationals, and logged a 35.1 rating in adults 18-49.
By comparison, the season’s highest-rated entertainment telecast, the season preem of Fox’s “American Idol,” averaged a 15.8 rating in the demo and 37.4 million viewers overall.
Game was up slightly from last year’s Pittsburgh-Seattle matchup on ABC (34.6 rating in 18-49, 90.75 million viewers overall) and reps the second largest Super Bowl aud, behind only the 1996 Dallas-Pittsburgh tussle on NBC (94.1 million).
Among all telecasts, only the 1996 Super Bowl and the 1983 series finale of “MASH” on CBS (105.97 million) have drawn a larger aud than Sunday’s contest. (Population increases favor more recent telecasts, but there are also significantly more viewing options these days.)
In adults 18-49 rating (unaffected by population increases), this year’s 35.1 is the third best in six years.
This was an exceptional season ratings-wise for the NFL, with its average pre-Super Bowl playoff audience for games on CBS, Fox and NBC (31.4 million) the largest in 11 years.
Certainly helping was the fact that both New York teams as well as teams representing other top markets Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas made the playoffs.
On Sunday in Chicago (the No. 3 market in the country), game did a 50.2 household rating/77 share. It earned a 55.5/79 in Indianapolis.
The Super Bowl will help CBS pad its first-place season advantages over ABC, NBC and Fox, which are stuck in a tight battle for second place in adults 18-49. Season figures to come down to a race to the finish between the Eye and the “American Idol”-boosted Fox.
One of the shows CBS is hoping can give it a boost down the stretch, sophomore drama “Criminal Minds,” received additional sampling by airing after the postgame show Sunday.
The dark drama achieved series highs, drawing roughly a 9.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 26.2 million viewers overall from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. ET.
This was down from last year’s exceptional performance for “Grey’s Anatomy” (16.5 in 18-49, 37.88 million), a hot show that only accelerated its ascent with the start of a two-part episode following the big game. Similarly, “Criminal Minds” will cap its two-part seg in its regular Wednesday slot this week.
In recent years, only ABC’s late-starting episode of “Alias” (11:01 p.m. ET) delivered a lower 18-49 post-Super Bowl rating than “Criminal Minds” (8.2). In overall total viewers, though, the 26.2 million for “Minds” is the third best in six years for a post-Super Bowl program.
The best post-Super Bowl showing to date was the 1996 episode of “Friends,” which averaged 94.1 million viewers for NBC.
Elsewhere Sunday, most of the Super Bowl competish was in repeats, with ABC’s broadcast of the theatrical “Old School” faring best (prelim 2.1/4 in 18-49, 4.9 million viewers overall).
Following the late local newscast on Eye affils, “The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson” averaged a 2.0 rating in adults 18-49 and 5.15 million viewers — series highs for the show, including all episodes with Craig Kilborn as host.
Final ratings for all Super Bowl-related programming, including the roughly 25-minute CBS postgame show, will be issued by Nielsen today.