Rose Bowl ratings down but solid; Fiesta up sharply

ESPN is off to a pretty good start in its second season airing college football’s Bowl Championship Series, as Monday’s two high-scoring nailbiters produced solid ratings.

The Rose Bowl game from Pasadena, in which Oregon topped Wisconsin 45-38, averaged 17.6 million viewers and an 11.8 coverage household rating from about 5:10-8:40 p.m. ET, according to Nielsen. While down from last year’s huge 13.0 rating for the matchup of Wisconsin against TCU, it reps the best non-NFL rating for ESPN since last year’s BCS title game (Auburn-Oregon).

Game did a 34.8 in Milwaukee and a 29.7 in Portland, Ore.

And the nightcap, an overtime contest that saw Oklahoma State outlast Stanford 41-38 in the Fiesta Bowl from Glendale, Ariz., averaged 13.7 million viewers and a 9.7 coverage household rating — up 37% over last year’s 7.2 for the Fiesta matchup between Oklahoma and Connecticut. The local scores Monday night in Oklahoma City (36.7) and San Francisco (13.9) were the highest on record for an ESPN bowl game.

Combined, ESPN’s two-game household average of 10.7 was up 8% from last year’s 9.9 and figured to make ESPN the top-rated network on Monday night when nationals and demo data are released.

ESPN also noted that live viewership for both of Monday’s BCS games soared on its ESPN3 online network. The Rose Bowl had 347,000 unique viewers (up 46% from last year) and the Fiesta Bowl saw 291,000 unique viewers (up 80%).

On the broadcast side Monday, CBS aired original episodes of its lineup and was paced by “Two and a Half Men” (prelim 4.4/10 in 18-49, 13.8 million) and “2 Broke Girls” (prelim 4.3/10, 12.0 million).

ABC kicked off its season of “The Bachelor” (prelim 2.4/6, 7.7 million), down 17% vs. last year but still ahead of the combined 8-10 p.m. showing for NBC’s competing reality entries “Who’s Still Standing?” (prelim 1.5/3, 5.6 million) and “Fear Factor” (prelim 2.5/6, 7.9 million).

The Alphabet then did reasonably well at 10 p.m. with a special preview of “Celebrity Wife Swap” (prelim 2.4/6, 6.3 million), which ran second among the broadcasters to CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0″ (prelim 2.9/7, 11.7 million) and outperformed the demo delivery of the two most recent original episodes of “Castle” to air in the Monday-at-10 slot. “Wife Swap” bowed in its regular Tuesday 9 o’clock slot last night.

Due to the New Year’s holiday, the primetime ratings report and Nielsen charts for the Dec. 26-Jan. 1 frame will appear in Thursday’s paper this week.

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