February 4, 2008 / 9:51 PM / 11 years ago

Giants and Patriots draw record Super Bowl audience

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A record number of Americans watched Sunday’s Super Bowl on Fox between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, helping justify the millions of dollars advertisers spent on commercials during the game.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (C) holds the Super Bowl trophy between Giants head coach Tom Coughlin (R) and Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw (L) after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 in the NFL's Super Bowl XLII football game in Glendale, Arizona February 3, 2008. Ann Mara is pictured second from left. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Data from Nielsen Media Research on Monday showed 97.5 million U.S. viewers saw the closely fought National Football League game, making it the most watched Super Bowl in history and leaving it behind only the series finale of “M*A*S*H” in 1983 for viewership.

Even before kick-off, experts forecast blockbuster ratings for a Super Bowl that matched two teams from big media markets with one of the teams, New England, entering the game undefeated.

The game itself assured the sky-high ratings, as the Giants won 17-14 on a touchdown in the final seconds to produce one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

“Fox could not have asked for a better game,” said Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media. “You don’t need writers for that sort of drama.”

Sunday’s audience increased nearly 5 percent from a year ago when CBS broadcast the Super Bowl. Previously, the 1996 Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers attracted the most viewers at 94.08 million.

For advertisers who paid an average of $2.7 million for a 30-second spot, up from $2.6 million a year ago, the hefty ratings came at the right time.

The Super Bowl, always critical for advertisers, took on added significance this year. A strike by Hollywood writers has disrupted much of the prime-time TV schedule, cutting down viewership. And those watching TV are skipping commercials with greater frequency thanks to digital video recorders like TiVo.

“The Super Bowl is relatively TiVo-proof,” said Adgate. “You’re not going to zap the commercials. In fact, a lot of people watch the game just for the commercials.”

Media experts and advertising polls suggested that longtime Super Bowl advertisers Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc and PepsiCo were among the big winners when it came to marketing.

“Overall it was a great year for Super Bowl advertising,” said professor Tim Calkins, who leads a Super Bowl review at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

USA Today’s Ad Meter, one of the most closely watched barometers of advertising success in the game, rated a spot by Anheuser-Busch for Budweiser as the top commercial, followed by spots from Fedex, Bridgestone, Doritos, and Bud Light.

Among the advertisements that received poor reviews from experts and audiences were commercials by Salesgenie.com and CareerBuilder, an online job site run by Gannett Co, Tribune Co, McClatchy Co and Microsoft Corp.

Super Bowl commercials received in excess of 15 million additional views online at social network MySpace.com, which, like Fox, is owned by News Corp.

Shares of News Corp fell 6 cents to close at $19.35 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Gary Hill

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