Super Bowl sets ratings record again

Updated: February 6, 2012, 5:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- For the third consecutive year, the Super Bowl set a record as the most-watched television show in U.S. history.

The Nielsen Co. said Monday that an estimated 111.3 million people watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots on Sunday night. That narrowly beat the 111 million who watched Green Bay's win over Pittsburgh last year.

The overnight rating was less than 1 percent shy of the record tied last year.

NBC was blessed by a competitive game between two teams that played in one of the Super Bowl's most memorable contests four years ago, with one of them representing the largest media market in the country.

The game wasn't over until Tom Brady's last-second heave into the end zone dropped onto the turf. That play itself had the biggest audience of any play in the game, according to the digital video recorder maker TiVo. Nielsen said 117.7 million people were watching during the last half hour of the game.

The past two Super Bowls, along with the 2010 game between New Orleans and Indianapolis and the finale of "M-A-S-H" in 1983, are the only programs to exceed 100 million viewers in U.S. television history.

Madonna has some bragging rights, too. Her halftime show was seen by an estimated 114 million people -- a higher average than the game itself -- and was the most-watched Super Bowl halftime entertainment show on record, Nielsen said.

"I was rooting for Madonna as much as I was for the Giants," said Tara Maitra, senior vice president of TiVo, which also monitored viewership trends during the game.

The good news continued after the game for NBC, when the heavily promoted season premiere of "The Voice" kept 37.6 million people in front of the television.

Its fans were disappointed, but Boston had its highest rating ever for an NFL game on Sunday. It was the second-highest rating ever in the New York market, behind only the Giants' first Super Bowl in 1986, Nielsen said.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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