Super Bowl XLIV Holds Nielsen Record

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A TV record was broken last year. According to Nielsen Company ratings, 106.5 million people watched the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl — making it the most watched TV event ever. It beat the record previously held by the final episode of MASH in 1983. It had 105.9 million viewers.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's one way you could sum up TV viewing in 2010: There was more and there was less.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on Nielsen's ratings for the past year.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: A TV record was broken last year.

(Soundbite of a crowd cheering)

Unidentified Man: He's going to score - 16 yards.

BLAIR: 106.5 million people watched the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl, making it the most-watched TV event ever. It beat the record previously held by the final episode of "MASH" in 1983: It had 105.9 million viewers.

Mr. STEPHEN BATTAGLIO (Business Editor, TV Guide): And a lot of people thought that record would never be topped.

BLAIR: Stephen Battaglio, business editor for TV Guide, says that's because people have so many more channels today than they did back in 1983, the slices of the pie have gotten a lot smaller.

Consumers can also watch TV whenever they want. Digital video recorders, or DVRs, are now in 38 percent of all homes - up 30 percent from last year.

Battaglio thinks that's partly why only a live sports event could break "MASH's" record.

Mr. BATTAGLIO: A live event like the Super Bowl, you've got to be there. You've got to be in front of the set so you can talk about it the next day and be a part of national conversation.

BLAIR: Sports dominated the Top 10 cable ratings for 2010: the NFL on ESPN, Major League Baseball on TBS. The biggest non-sports hit on cable was TNT's "Rizzoli & Isles," a police drama starring Angie Harmon.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Rizzoli & Isles")

Ms. SASHA ALEXANDER (Actor): (as Dr. Maura Isles) Did you actually tackle him?

Ms. ANGIE HARMON (Actor): (as Detective Jane Rizzoli) Yes, like a linebacker.

BLAIR: DVR has helped "Mad Men" more than any other show.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Mad Men")

Mr. JOHN HAMM (Actor): (as Don Draper) So as of today, Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price will no longer take tobacco accounts.

BLAIR: Its audience nearly doubled when you count DVR playback.

The usual suspects topped Nielsen's ratings for regularly scheduled series last year: NBC's "Sunday Night Football," "Dancing with the Stars." And in the number one and two spots, "American Idol."

The amount of time Americans spent watching TV remained steady at about 34 hours per week.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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