The Super Bowl has surpassed its record audience for the third consective year, retaining its status as the most-watched event on TV.
Citing Nielsen data, NBC said Super Bowl XLVI was seen by a record average of 111.3 million viewers, narrowly topping Fox's broadcast of Super Bowl XLV, which reached 111 million. NBC's audience was the largest to watch a TV program in U.S. history.
NBC's broadcast was bolstered by a rematch between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, who fought a nail-biting game in 2008 and provided a similar match-up Sunday night.
Super Bowl broadcasts now account for four of the five most-watched broadcasts in TV. CBS's 2010 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV was watched by 106.5 million viewers, and NBC's broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 reached 98.7 million viewers. Only the 1983 series finale broadcast of "M*A*S*H" on CBS standsamong the big Super Bowl games. That broadcast reached 106 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
As has become usual, the most-watched portion of the game was the riveting fourth quarter. NBC said 117.7 million people ended up seeing some portion of the broadcast between 9:30 p.m. and 9:58 p.m. NBC said 37.6 million people tuned in to watch its opening broadcast of the second season of "The Voice."
NBC did not release data for its live-streaming of the game via NBC.com and select Verizon Communications mobile phones. At present, it's also unclear whether the streaming took viewers away from the main broadcast or added even more viewers to the event.
Whether the Super Bowl broadcast will lend NBC's prime-time programming a boost remains to be seen. The network used the game to promote both "The Voice" and its new theater drama "Smash," set to debut Monday night.
Of course, NBC's audience numbers are only a smidge higher than Fox's 2011 results, which could make observers wonder how much more growth the Super Bowl has left in it. By at least one indicator, however, marketers see potential. CBS has already sold some ad berths for its broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, a dynamic driven by demand for the game by auto marketers.