Only the 1996 Super Bowl between Dallas and Pittsburgh, which had 94.1 million viewers, had a bigger audience, according to Nielsen Media Research on Monday. Behind that 1996 game and the M-A-S-H series finale, Sunday's game was the third most-watched program in television history.
The presence of one of the game's most popular players in Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and a major-market team from Chicago undoubtedly juiced the ratings.
It was the highest-rated Super Bowl game since St. Louis-Tennessee in 2000. The viewership is higher this year even though the ratings are lower than in 2000 because there are more homes now with television sets.
The Colts beat the Bears 29-17 in a game played during a driving rainstorm in Miami. It was shown on CBS, a division of CBS Corp.
Last year's Super Bowl between Pittsburgh and Seattle drew 90.7 million viewers.
Despite the huge audience, the Super Bowl didn't provide much of a jolt to the CBS drama "Criminal Minds," which was given the choice time slot following the game. "Criminal Minds" was seen by 26.2 million viewers. While that's the biggest audience the second-year show has ever delivered, it dwarfs the 38.1 million people who saw "Grey's Anatomy" after ABC's telecast of the game last year.
According to another measuring service, the most-watched moment of the CBS broadcast wasn't Peyton Manning's lone touchdown pass, the interception and touchdown run by Kelvin Hayden or even Prince's electrifying halftime show. It was the Bud Light ad featuring Carlos Mencia and a language class, according to Tivo.
The digital recorder company's measurement includes not only people who watched the commercial live, but those who froze the set and went back and watched the commercial, said Todd Juenger, vice president and general manager for audience research.
More viewers with digital recorders tend to replay the Super Bowl commercials than game action perhaps because broadcasters offer plenty of replays of game action on their own, he said.
The most popular minute of the actual game, representing most Tivo replays, was after a personal foul was committed following an Indianapolis kickoff in the third quarter, he said.