February 8, 2010 / 11:06 PM / in 8 years

Record Super Bowl telecast tops "M*A*S*H" record

<p>New Orleans Saints fans celebrate after their team defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, February 7, 2010.Hans Deryk</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sunday's Super Bowl TV audience set a viewing record for the annual National Football League Championship and eclipsed the 1983 benchmark set by the comedy "M*A*S*H" to become the most watched U.S. telecast, according to early ratings data on Monday.

A record 106.5 million American TV viewers watched the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday's game, broadcast on CBS, Nielsen media and CBS said.

The figures topped the record held since 1983 by the finale of "M*A*S*H," which drew 106 million viewers.

The previous record for a Super Bowl was the 98.7 million Americans who tuned in to see the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.

In an era of declining live viewership for TV shows, audiences for the Super Bowl have grown for each of the past four years, demonstrating why advertisers paid up to $3 million for a 30-second commercial spot during Sunday's more than three hour broadcast.

CBS said the audience for Sunday's game reached a peak of 114.1 million TV viewers in its last half-hour. Overall for the game, 68 percent of the U.S. TV sets that were turned on on Sunday were watching the football game, it added.

"The Super Bowl remains the premier television event of the year, and is one of the few programs in an era of fragmented TV viewership that can still attract a huge national audience," said Dave Thomas, Nielsen's president of media client services.

"This year's Super Bowl had a compelling narrative, with the underdog New Orleans Saints coming from behind against powerhouse Indianapolis Colts. There was tremendous interest in both the game and the advertisements leading up to last night and the excitement of the game itself translated into record ratings," Thomas said in a statement.

CBS news and sports president Sean McManus said he was proud of the way the network "produced, sold and promoted the most-watched television show in history."

CBS, already the most-watched of the four big TV networks, sold out its Super Bowl advertising spots despite the economic downturn.

Snickers, Doritos, Google and Bud Light were among the ads creating the most popular early buzz on Monday, according to media analysts.

Sunday's Super Bowl was watched by more than double the 48 million Americans who tuned in last month to watch President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, and the average 26.8 million watching this year's "American Idol" on Fox television, which is currently the most-watched series on U.S. television.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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