Giant step for mankind

Super Bowl draws record 97.5 mil

Sunday's Super Bowl XLII wasn't just super, it was stupendous in every sense of the word.

The New York Giants' 17-14 upset of the previously undefeated New England Patriots averaged 97.5 million viewers to become the most-watched Super Bowl in the game's 42-year history and the second-most-watched telecast in the annals of TV. It was surpassed only by the "M*A*S*H" series finale in February 1983, which averaged 106 million viewers.

The result is a massive payday for Fox, which received upward of $3 million apiece for a handful of its 30-second Super Bowl commercials. News Corp., Fox's parent company, took in more than $250 million in revenue for the Fox network alone — and a profit as well.

"(It's) the biggest day in our company's history," News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said Monday during News Corp.'s quarterly earnings call. News Corp. executives declined to detail how big a profit, however. Revenue for the TV stations, including the Fox O&Os in the major markets, couldn't be determined but were additive.

Fox already is sitting pretty this strike-afflicted TV season thanks to "American Idol," "House" and "The Moment of Truth." But the Super Bowl telecast has vaulted Fox to a lead of nearly 1 rating point in the adults 18-49 demographic — the widest margin for any network since the 1997-98 season, News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin said.

It makes a foregone conclusion what everyone in the industry has known: Fox will win its fourth straight victory in the lucrative 18-49 demo. Sunday was Fox's highest-rated night in its history in viewership and 18-49, scoring the highest-rated week of any network since July 1996.

The momentum was carried after the game by "House" (29 million viewers, 12.8 rating in 18-49), which was the network's highest-rated scripted show since "The X-Files," which followed the 1997 Super Bowl telecast on Fox. "House" also was up 11% in viewers and 29% in 18-49 compared with last year's "Criminal Minds" that aired on CBS after its Super Bowl. The game itself was 4% higher in viewership than the 2007 Indianapolis Colts-Chicago Bears matchup.

The Boston (55.6 rating/81 share) and New York (44.9/67) markets were huge, but the game also was strong in Phoenix (47.0/72) — the market in which the game was played — and elsewhere.

Sen. Barack Obama took advantage of the game's high profile, running a 30-second spot in the local avails in the markets of the 24 states that are having primaries today on Super Tuesday. Fox barred political ads during the national Super Bowl spots.

The Super Bowl marks another crowning achievement for Fox Sports, whose strategy has been to capture the big-ticket sporting events. Even by its standards, it has been a strong run, from the Boston Red Sox-Colorado Rockies World Series to the high-rated NFC broadcast package to college football's Bowl Championship Series and now the Super Bowl.

"We've called it our championship season, and I think the run of major events is unprecedented in that period of time," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said.

The run continues. After a few days of rest, the crews will pack up and get ready to televise the Feb. 17 Daytona 500.