TV ratings records and the Super Bowl: who is really the King?

Elvis Presley
Elvis is still the King of worldwide TV ratings.

SAN DIEGO, February 4, 2014 –  News media eagerly reported record ratings for Sunday’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII from New York despite the blowout of the Denver Broncos by the Seattle Seahawks. But was it really a record?

According to the Nielsen Company, Fox drew 111.5 million viewers, with a household rating of 44.5 percent and a share of 70 percent at kickoff. This means of all the households in America, 44.5 percent had the Super Bowl turned on, and of all households watching anything on TV, 70 percent were watching the Super Bowl at that moment.

It also meant a lot of people didn’t have the TV on at all. It could mean they were working, shopping, at the movies or park, or sleeping. It could also mean they were watching at a friend’s house. Thirty percent of the people watching TV were watching something else, like Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl X” or PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” which had more viewers against the Super Bowl this year than last year, 6.8 million people. It was the most watched program other than the Super Bowl Sunday night.

It’s an impressive figure, but it is really an all-time TV viewing record? In sheer numbers strictly in the United States, yes. But as the population grows, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The better comparison to measure a cultural phenomenon is the share number. Of all the TVs in America, what percentage of the population was watching one program at the same time?

M*A*S*H still holds the record for rating and share as the most viewed single TV show in American history.
M*A*S*H still holds the record for rating and share as the most viewed single TV show in American history.

The all-time record for an entertainment show isn’t likely to ever be matched: the final episode of the CBS comedy series “M*A*S*H*.” On February 28, 1983, 77 percent of all households watching TV in America were watching “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” the two and a half hour finale. It was measured officially at 105.9 million people. But some unofficial measurements using another method (anyone who watched at least six minutes of the show) say the number was 121.6 million people, putting it well into the low 80 percent share figure.

Worldwide, FIFA World Cup Soccer and the Olympic Games both draw impressive numbers of viewers, although the audience figures are difficult to verify. Estimates for viewers of the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony from Beijing, China range from one to four billion people, with as many as 840 million watching on China Central Television. At least 984 million people turned in to the opening ceremony at some point.

NASA has verified one impressive audience figure: 530 million people worldwide watched Neil Armstrong walk on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. This was 14 percent of the total population of the Earth at that time. The moonwalk took place in the middle of the night in Europe at 2:56 a.m. It was not even broadcast in most Eastern European nations or in most of China.

One man still and forever reigns as The King – the ratings King. The satellite broadcast of “Aloha From Hawaii,” a live concert starring Elvis Presley aired on January 14, 1973, officially reached one billion viewers globally, though not all at one time. American audiences didn’t see the special until April 4 that year, when 51 percent of the population watched. In the Philippines, 91.8 percent of the TV audience was watching every move live. Viva Manila!

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine and Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

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