This year's Super Bowl may be one of the most lopsided on record, but millions and millions of viewers made the NFL staple the most watched of all time. After preliminary reports suggested that the game wouldn't rank higher than the top five (which honestly would still have been impressive given the score), the full ratings are out and they are stunning.
Based on the final numbers, this year's big game on Fox (FOXA) averaged out to a total of 111.5 million viewers, which doesn't just top the previous record holder (2012's Giants vs. Patriots), but topped EVERYTHING else on TV. The Seahawks' crowning achievement is now the most-watched U.S. telecast of all time. For those interested, the M.A.S.H. finale still holds the ratings crown on the scripted programming side with nearly 106 million viewers (and likely will never lose it).
However, the Super Bowl's new ratings record isn't the only new mark set last night as Bruno Mars' very well-received halftime show also hit high numbers. That portion of the telecast climbed to a high of 115.3 million viewers, which tops previous record holder Madonna (114 million) and last year's headliner Beyonce (110.8 millon). According to additional numbers released by Fox, the Super Bowl's biggest audience was in Kansas City, followed by Seattle and Indianapolis. Denver, the home market of Seattle's opponent, rounded out the top 10.
The game's halo effect looked to carry on to the network's post-game lineup, which saw 25.8 million viewers stick around for New Girl and 14.8 million hang around after that for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Comedies traditionally don't do as well as dramas in the post-slot, but in this case New Girl topped last year's special episode of Elementary (20.8 million) and eclipsed The Office (23 million), which was the last comedy to get the postgame slot (back in 2009).
Counter-programming also had a big night as for the third straight year PBS scored a win with Downton Abbey. The popular British import netted 6.8 million viewers, which is a 3% gain from last year's showing against the Ravens/49ers Super Bowl. Downton remains one of the most formidable shows on TV, even with its episodes airing four months later in the States than when they premiere on iTV in the UK.
From a business perspective though, last night's numbers don't just translate to big bucks for Fox and the other networks that rotate the big game. The huge ratings put the NFL in an even better negotiating position as it looks to expand its Thursday night primetime slate of games.
The league has yet to reveal which network submitted the winning bid for the Thursday package, but with this latest milestone in hand, those face-offs have potential to be an even bigger game-changer than anticipated. If any of the major broadcasters walk away with the rights, expect a shift in this year's upfront planning as advertisers will scramble to be a part of the action because scripted fare may no longer rule the night. Even if ESPN or Turner win the bid, analysts can still expect a shift as the games will draw viewers, but it will have less of a scheduling impact and corresponding domino effect.
The NFL is in a great position right now as audiences have shown they can't get enough of the game. As a result, get ready for a possible watershed moment that could have long-lasting implications.