Game draws 95 million viewers

Amid a steep economic downturn, American auds were in a partying mood Sunday as the Super Bowl on NBC drew one of the largest television audiences on record.

Super Bowl XLIII, which the Pittsburgh Steelers won 27-23 over the Arizona Cardinals, averaged 95.4 million viewers to rank as the second- most-watched NFL championship behind last year’s game, according to preliminary in-home viewing estimates from Nielsen Media Research.

By comparison, this season’s top entertainment telecast, the premiere of Fox’s “American Idol,” drew 30.4 million, or less than one-third of the aud for the game.

Following the Super Bowl post-game, a special one-hour episode of NBC laffer “The Office” averaged 22 million viewers — roughly double its previous record but lower than recent entertainment programs to benefit from the huge Super Bowl lead-in. “House” drew 29 million on Fox last year, and “Criminal Minds” brought in 26 million on CBS in 2007.

The game itself ranks second only to last year’s New York Giants-New England Patriots game on Fox, which averaged 97.5 million. It’s also the fourth consecutive year that pro football’s championship has topped 90 million viewers.

“Recording the two biggest Super Bowl audiences in history in two consecutive years proves that the NFL is stronger than ever,” said NBC Universal sports chief Dick Ebersol. “These numbers confirm the power and consistency of the Super Bowl as the top property in all of television.”

Sunday’s Super Bowl is also the No. 3 telecast of all time, with only the 1983 finale of “MASH” on CBS (106 million) drawing a larger aud than the past two Super Bowls. (Total viewership figures for recent events are affected by population growth, but there are also many more channels and other entertainment options today than in years past.)

NBC and Nielsen were expected to release half-hour ratings breakdowns today, but viewership in the closing 10 p.m. half-hour likely hit 100 million.

The game earned a 53.6 household rating/79 share in Pittsburgh, a 47.5/80 in Phoenix and a 49.2/70 in host city Tampa, Fla.

NBC was able to garner late advertiser support for the game, announcing on the eve of the Super Bowl that its ad revenue for the event had reached a record $206 million.

The ads sold for between $2.4 million and $3 million per 30-second slot. And when all pre- and post-game festivities were included, the Peacock was said to have fetched $261 million for the day.

“The Office” post-game episode did strike a chord with young auds. The seg that got started at 10:40 ET delivered a 10.6 rating in adults 18-49, more than double the show’s previous high (5.1) and a better showing than three of the last six hours to follow the Super Bowl.

It ranks as the No. 3 entertainment series telecast of the season in the demo, lagging only the first two installments of Fox’s “Idol” last month. And in adults 18-34, Sunday’s 12.5 rating for “The Office” makes it the season’s No. 1 entertainment telecast in that demo.

ABC was the top alternative for young adults Sunday as episodes of its nonscripted series “Wipeout” lifted the net by about 15% over its 18-49 delivery on the night a year ago.

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