Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Not So Fast, Super Bowl

By now, you've probably heard all about the huge audience for Sunday's Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts. The game attracted an audience of 106.5 million viewers, which makes it the most-watched show in television history. The previous record belonged to M*A*S*H, which had 106 million viewers for its 2-1/2 hour finale in 1983.

But when you look a little closer, the numbers don't seem quite as impressive. First of all, keep in mind that audiences are higher for all shows today because the population keeps growing. (In the U.S., around 234 million in 1983 compared to about 315 million today). It's the same reason newer movies hold all the box office records--ticket prices continue to increase.

A better measure of audience is probably the rating/share, the comparison of those watching television vs. those watching the game. Sunday's game had a 45 rating and 68 share, which is terrific, but doesn't even put it in the top 5 of all Super Bowl games. And it doesn't come close to the 60 rating/77 share for the final episode of M*A*S*H.

This isn't to bash the ratings for the game. The Super Bowl continues to defy the trend of declining audiences for other sports events, as the game audience went up 8% from last year. (Bill Gorman has an excellent analysis of historical Super Bowl ratings). But, it's like the old NBC public service announcement used to say ... "The more you know ..."


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