The Arizona-Pittsburgh matchup wasn't considered an ideal one for television, but its finish riveted an estimated audience of 95.4 million people, second only to last year's game as the most-watched Super Bowl ever.
Viewership peaked in the fourth quarter, when Arizona took the
lead on Larry Fitzgerald's 64-yard catch and sprint to the end zone
only to have it snatched back when Santonio Holmes' end zone leap
gave Pittsburgh the 27-23 win. More than 100 million Americans were
watching between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST, according to Nielsen
The game was the third most-watched program in American
television history, after the 106 million people who watched the
"M-A-S-H" series finale in 1983 and the 97.4 million who watched
the N.Y. Giants end the New England Patriots' bid for an undefeated
season in the 2008 Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl, once again, proved its ability to capture
America," said Dick Ebersol, NBC Universal Sports chairman.
The NFL's championship is traditionally television's biggest
event of the year. Yet between 1998 and 2004, none of the games
reached the 90 million mark in viewers. Each game for the past four
years topped 90 million.
Arizona's first-ever visit to the Super Bowl hadn't drawn much
buzz outside of the Southwest. But Pittsburgh, perhaps because of
its four Super Bowl wins in six years in the 1970s, has more of a
national constituency than the city's size would suggest. Both of
its last two Super Bowl trips topped the 90 million mark, with the
Steelers' 1996 loss to Dallas the most popular Super Bowl until it
was beaten last year.
The Super Bowl, long derided as a game that rarely lives up to
its hype, now has two classics in two years.
One measure of how gripping the game was: for the first time in
the seven years TiVo Inc. has been measuring, more people watched
the game during the second half than watched the commercials. The
ads are usually watched more because of people playing them back on
digital video recorders, said Todd Juenger, general manager of
TiVo's research department.
One of the biggest gambles to pay off was by Go Daddy Group
Inc., the Internet domain registrar. It bought time for its
"enhancement" ad with Danica Patrick during the last few minutes
of the game, risking the loss of millions of people who would drift
away from the Super Bowl if the outcome was decided.
Instead, fans stayed glued to their sets and the company's ad
was the most-watched commercial in the Super Bowl, TiVo said.
Eight of the 10 most-watched ads came during the second half,
TiVo makes its rankings by combining the number of actual
viewers and its records of people who rewind to watch a particular
event. If the commercial is rewound three times, that counts as
The first-half Doritos ad with a well-pitched snowglobe was the
commercial viewers most often stopped and rewound to give another
look. Last year's E-Trade Financial Corp. ad with the talking baby
was the most-watched ad but revisiting the strategy didn't seem to
work: the company's ad ranked No. 37 of 143 that were measured.
The game didn't offer much help to NBC's one-hour special
edition of "The Office," which aired following the trophy
presentation. It had 22 million viewers - compared to the 29
million who watched "House" after last year's Super Bowl - but
was still NBC entertainment's most-watched show since a May 2004
edition of "ER."