Fox Rides Super Bowl Ratings Win to Best Week Ever

Rash Report: Superlative Super Sunday -- and Tuesday

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Super Sunday and Super Tuesday -- both big contests -- were cliffhangers, but the week was a ratings rout, with Fox claiming nine of the top 10 shows.
Super Bowl XLII was not only the highest-rated show of the year, but one of the highest of all time.
Super Bowl XLII was not only the highest-rated show of the year, but one of the highest of all time. Credit: AP

Super Sunday, of course, was the day of the Super Bowl, the dramatic denouement of the NFL's season. The giant upset by New York over New England was not only the highest-rated show of the year, but one of the highest of all time. Which proves once again (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan) it's not the medium, it's the message, as broadcast TV's recent ratings struggles are a function of what's programmed, not where it's programmed.

The game's demographic delivery of a 35.9/72 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 target was joined in this week's top 10 list by three other Super Sunday football fragments, with the "Post-Gun" (33.9/66), "Post-Game" (25.8/54) and "Pre-Game" (24.1/61) rounding out the top four.

Football was also a kickoff for the top-rated scripted series of the week, Fox's "House," which won the right to run on the schedule grid right after the Vince Lombardi trophy was awarded on the gridiron. Further establishing its hit status, "House" delivered a fifth-place 12.2/30.

An eighth-place episode aired two days later, as Tuesday's "House" (8.2/20) beat ABC's and CBS's Super Tuesday primary campaign coverage, which delivered a 1.4/3 and 1.2/3 in the time period. And right before "House," the election of the next "American Idol" won handily over the election of the next American president, as the 9.9/26 was sixth for the week (Wednesday's "Idol" was seventh with a 9.1/24, which led into ninth place "Moment of Truth," which rated a 6.6/17.) If you're still keeping track at home, that's nine out of 10. And if last night's Nielsen "Fast Affiliate Ratings" hold up, ABC's "Lost" will find itself in that 10th spot with a 6.4/16.

NBC actually had the top-rated election coverage, 1.8/5 -- but that was only in the 10 p.m. ET hour; before covering the Super Tuesday winners the network ran "The Biggest Loser" (2.7/7), which out-delivered it by 50%.

This difference, as well as Fox's Super Tuesday landslide, might justify NBC's decision to only run one hour of coverage while Fox relegated returns to cable sibling Fox News Channel; Fox doesn't want to interrupt a fabulous February and NBC has often rode reality to second-place finishes after last year's fourth-place status.

But to some critics -- particularly protecting those who can't afford cable -- this corporate synergy may seem cynical, as scheduling no election coverage on Fox and only one hour during prime-time on NBC (in favor of MSNBC) on a night of a near-national primary -- to make way for a weight-loss reality show -- is a loss in its own right. And while clearly not violating any FCC mandates, it's conceivable someone can construe it as not putting the public first in the use of the public airwaves.

But the public has mostly adapted, and adopted options on cable news networks, which had robust ratings competitive with the broadcasters. CNN's prime-time coverage averaged a 1.1/3, followed by Fox News Channel's 0.73/2 and MSNBC's 0.65/2.

While different, both Super Sunday and Super Tuesday were covered by analysts like full-contact sports -- with close matchups involving their own versions of giants and patriots -- and turned out to be terrific TV.

And if the rumored deal to end the writers strike is struck this weekend, a super week will turn into a superlative one.

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NOTE: A share is a percentage of TV households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with a TV. In order to report ratings on a timely basis, all the ratings listed here reflect a Nielsen Live number. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of a commercial minute, live-plus-3 viewing basis.) John Rash is senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For daily rating updates, see rashreport.com.
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