Giants' staggering win over Patriots watched by record 97.5 million

NEW YORK -- The 97.5 million viewers who saw the New York Giants' last-minute win over the New England Patriots made it the
most-watched Super Bowl ever and second biggest event in American
television history.

Only the "MASH" series finale in 1983, with 106 million
viewers, was seen by more people, Nielsen Media Research said
Monday. Sunday's game eclipsed the previous Super Bowl record of
94.08 million, set when Dallas defeated Pittsburgh in 1996.

This year's game had almost all the ingredients Fox could have
hoped for: a tight contest with a thrilling finish involving a team
that was attempting to make history as the NFL's first unbeaten
team since 1972.

But the Giants ended New England's bid for perfection, 17-14.
Throughout the game, the teams were never separated by more than a

"You might like your equation going in, but you still need some
breaks going your way," said Ed Goren, Fox sports president. The
closeness of the game probably added a couple million viewers to
the telecast's average; the audience peaked at 105.7 million
viewers between 9:30 and 10 p.m. EST -- during the fourth quarter.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning won bragging rights over his
brother: Last year's win by Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts was
seen by 93.2 million people, now the third most popular Super Bowl.
Manning was set to appear on David Letterman's "Late Show" on
Monday, but travel delays in Arizona pushed his appearance back to

An eye-popping 81 percent of all TV sets on in the Boston area
Sunday were tuned in to the game. In New York, the audience share
was 67 percent.

There were signs even before game time that Fox could be headed
for a record. The opportunity for a team to make history with
football's first 19-0 record was a powerful draw. The Giants and
Patriots also had a tight contest in late December that drew strong

The Giants' underdog run had also captivated the nation's
largest media market, making up for the only potential weakness in
the event as a drawing card: the lack of geographical diversity in
the competing teams.

There were past Super Bowls with higher ratings, topped by the
1982 game between San Francisco and Cincinnati (49.1 rating, 73
share). That indicates a larger percentage of homes with
televisions were watching the game. But since the American
population has increased, along with the number of people with TVs,
the actual number of people watching this year was higher.

The Giants-Patriots game's actual rating (43.2 rating, 65 share)
was the highest for any Super Bowl since 2000. That means 43
percent of the nation's households with TV were tuned in to the
game, and 65 percent of the TV sets that were turned on were
watching football.

The 97.5 million figure represents the game's average viewership
during any given minute. Nielsen said that a total of 148.3 million
watched at least some part of the game.

Goren said ratings were stronger than usual for Fox's pregame
show, crediting the decision to add a show biz element with Ryan
Seacrest to a program often usually only hardcore football fans
could love.

Fox, a division of News Corp., charged $2.7 million for 30
seconds of advertising time on the game, and that may have been a

This year's Super Bowl was one of the few -- if only -- television
events where more people watched the commercials than the program
itself, according to digital video recorder makers TiVo Inc.

By measuring live viewership, and the number of people who
rewound their DVRs, the most-seen Super Bowl commercial was
E-Trade's stock-talking baby, who ended a financial discussion by
spitting up, TiVo said.

"I didn't see that punch line coming at all," said Todd
Juenger, Tivo's research chief.

Pepsi's Justin Timberlake commercial was second, proving fans
either like watching Timberlake, or like watching him sail into a
mailbox post crotch-first. The Doritos "Mouse Trap" commercial,
from an idea submitted by a viewer, was third.

In what may be a sign of the times, TiVo's top 10 commercials
featured only one beer ad and four for either soft drinks or
flavored water.