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Super Bowl gets 95.4M viewers, No. 3 telecast of all time

February 2, 2009 |  9:21 am

Like the Arizona Cardinals, who watched their lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers crumble away in the final seconds of Sunday's Super Bowl, the game's TV ratings fell just short of a history-making performance.

An average of 95.4 million total viewers tuned in to NBC's telecast, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. That represented a drop of just 2% from last year's record-breaking game on Fox, when the New York Giants pulled out a suspenseful late-game upset over the New England Patriots.

Still, Sunday's penalty-filled game was the third most-watched telecast in TV history, behind only last year's Super Bowl and the February 1983 finale of the sitcom "MASH" (106 million). The huge audience proved once again that a hard-fought contest between two closely matched teams can make all the difference when it comes to viewership. It also helped that the Steelers, who won their sixth NFL championship, have a large national following; the Cardinals had never before played in the 43-year-old Super Bowl and the franchise has not taken a league title since 1947.

At a time when most televised events are showing steep audience declines, the Super Bowl is unique in its power to unite the mass audience. "The Super Bowl once again proved its ability to captivate America," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said in a statement.   

NBC estimated that 147 million total viewers watched at least six minutes of the game. However, TV analysts and advertisers typically use average viewership as a more reliable yardstick of a program's true popularity.

After the game, NBC aired a special hourlong episode of its comedy "The Office," which delivered its biggest audience ever with an average of 22 million total viewers. Even so, it was the least-watched post-Super Bowl entertainment program since 2003, when a special episode of the ABC spy thriller "Alias" drew 17.4 million viewers. Last year, Fox's medical drama "House" got a post-Bowl bump to 29.1 million. And in 1996, a post-Bowl showing of NBC's "Friends" drew a record 52.9 million viewers.

— Scott Collins 

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