Perfect cable record for ESPN

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The New England Patriots' last-minute win to keep their perfect record intact pushed ESPN's "Monday Night Football" to an all-time record in cable viewership.

The Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game averaged 17.5 million viewers, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research. That was a nose higher than Disney Channel's "High School Musical 2," which averaged 17.2 million viewers Aug. 17.

The game, won by the Patriots 27-24, began with 10.6 million viewers at 8:30 p.m. EST before rising to 23.9 million viewers at 11:30 p.m. New England is now 12-0 and looking to become the first NFL team to finish the regular season undefeated since 1972.

"To date it's the game of the year in the NFL, an incredibly compelling game from start to finish," ESPN executive vp John Wildhack said. "The Patriots are the headline story in the NFL this year."

ESPN had an inkling that it would be a big game, with network chief George Bodenheimer talking it up to investors and analysts Monday morning at the UBS conference in Manhattan. Another last-minute win by the Patriots was the icing on the cake.

"Not only did it live up to that potential, it exceeded it," Wildhack said.

The game was the second-highest-rated telecast in cable behind the 1993 Ross Perot- Al Gore NAFTA debate on CNN. It gave ESPN a victory against everyone else in cable and broadcast Monday night in viewers and the male and adult demos.

ESPN's viewership is down slightly with "MNF" season-to-date. But Wildhack said the network doesn't just look at the linear channel TV ratings.

"It's not the metric we sell against," he said. "Our proposition, as you know, is a multiplatform approach, and the vast majority of our deals are multiplatform." ESPN tries to make every "MNF" game an event, with radio, online and its TV channels involved from Monday morning through Tuesday.
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