Packers-Steelers game is most-watched program in U.S. history

Fox’s broadcast of Sunday’s Super Bowl, a classic matchup of traditional gridiron powerhouses whose outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute, has topped last year’s big game to log the largest audience in U.S. television history — a whopping 111 million.

The Green Bay Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers topped the previous record of 106.48 million for last year’s Super Bowl between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Both games drew more viewers than the 1983 series finale of CBS comedy “MASH,” whose 105.97 million viewers had held the all-time U.S. viewership mark for more than 25 years.

Following the postgame show, Fox’s special telecast of sophomore smash “Glee” (10:39 p.m.-11:45 p.m. ET) averaged an 11.1 rating in adults 18-49 and 26.8 million viewers overall, according to time zone-adjusted prelim nationals from Nielsen. While last year’s post-Super Bowl premiere of “Undercover Boss” on CBS fared much better (16.2/38 in 18-49, 38.65 million viewers overall, starting at a more advantageous time of 10:13 p.m. ET), Sunday’s episode of “Glee” becomes the highest-rated scripted telecast on any net since the post-Super Bowl episode of “House” on Fox three years ago (12.9/31 in 18-49, 29 million viewers).

The Super Bowl has now established a new viewership record for the event with each of the last four games and has seen its viewership increase for six straight years — from 86.1 million to 111 million, a gain of nearly 25 million viewers.

The record ratings are hardly a surprise for a sport that is clearly on a roll. This year saw the best regular-season ever for the primetime packages on NBC and ESPN, while CBS and Fox had their best tune-in for afternoon games in years.

And while Green Bay and Pittsburgh aren’t major markets, their tradition-rich football teams have strong followings nationwide.

The game, which gave the Packers their fourth Super Bowl title, posted a 46.0 household rating/69 share to tie Super Bowl XXX in 1996 (Dallas-Pittsburgh) as the highest-rated since Super Bowl XX in 1986 (Chicago-New England). Population increases over the years have meant that the same rating today produces a larger overall viewing total.

Super Bowl XLV opened with 106.8 million viewers in the 6:30 p.m. ET half-hour and peaked in the 9:30 p.m. half-hour with 117.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

The game earned a huge 59.7 household rating in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee; the only higher local rating in Super Bowl history was the 63.0 rating for Chicago in 1986. Host city Dallas posted a 53.7/80, the second-highest rating ever for a host city whose own team was not playing in the game (behind only small-market Jacksonville’s 58.9/77 in 2005).

“Glee,” which easily achieved series highs, outperformed its prior season average with originals by 131% in both adults 18-49 (11.1 vs. 4.8) and total viewers (26.8 million vs. 11.6 million). The show hadn’t aired an original episode since Dec. 7 and is back with another in its regular timeslot tonight, when it leads into the return of “Raising Hope” and the series premiere of “Traffic Light.”

Opposite the Super Bowl, none of the other major networks grabbed more than 1% of the available 18-49 viewership on the night. ABC went with back-to-back repeats of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (0.5 rating/1 share in adults 18-49, 2.9 million viewers overall at 7 p.m. and 0.7/1, 3.4 million at 8 p.m.) followed by an encore of theatrical hit “Knocked Up” (0.8/2 in 18-49, 2.7 million).

CBS aired an original “60 Minutes” (0.5/1 in 18-49, 3.9 million) followed by repeats of “Undercover Boss” (0.8/1 in 18-49, 3.4 million), “CSI: Miami” (0.6/1 in 18-49, 3.3 million) and “Hawaii Five-0″ (0.9/2, 5.1 million). NBC went with repeats of “Who Do You Think You Are” (0.3/1 in 18-49, 1.6 million at 7 p.m. and 0.4/1 in 18-49, 1.9 million at 8 p.m.) and an original two-hour installment of “Dateline” (0.9/2 in 18-49, 3.5 million).

The Super Bowl pre-game show, which included Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama, averaged a 12.2 household rating/24 share in the metered-market overnights, up 13% from last year’s 10.8/21 and the best in eight years. It opened with a 4.5/10 from 2 to 2:30 p.m. ET, then grew to a 6.4/13 by 3 p.m., an 8.5/17 at 4 p.m., a 13.9/26 at 5 p.m. and then a 33.7/56 from 6 to 6:30.

In other ratings news of note, cabler Oxygen tapped into the “Glee” craze by drawing its most-watched day in network history Saturday with its 12-hour Gleekend marathon. From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., it set records in adults 18-49 (452,000) and total viewers (885,000), topping 1 million viewers for two of the primetime episodes.

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