The Saints’ victory over Indianapolis in the Super Bowl was watched by more than 106 million people, surpassing the 1983 finale of “M-A-S-H” to become the most-watched program in U.S. television history, the Nielsen Co. said Monday.
Compelling story lines involving the city of New Orleans and its ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the attempt at a second Super Bowl ring for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) propelled the viewership. Football ratings have been strong all season.
“It was one of those magical moments that you don’t often see in sports,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports. Nielsen estimated Monday that 106.5 million people watched Sunday’s Super Bowl. The “M-A-S-H” record was 105.97 million.
The viewership estimate obliterated the previous record viewership for a Super Bowl—last year’s game between Arizona and Pittsburgh. That game was seen by 98.7 million people, Nielsen said.
The “M-A-S-H” record has proven as durable and meaningful in television as Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs was in baseball until topped by Hank Aaron. Ultimately, it may be hard to tell which program was really watched by more people. There’s a margin for error in such numbers, and Nielsen’s Monday estimate was preliminary, and could change with a more thorough look at data due Tuesday.
“It’s significant for all of the members of the broadcasting community,” said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. CEO. “For anyone who wants to write that broadcasting is dead, 106 million people watched this program. You can’t find that anywhere else.”