Super Bowl Sets Ratings Record, But HD Numbers Still Lacking

Sunday’s memorable NFL season finale provided more than the second-biggest audience in television history for any program, with ratings hovering around 97.5 million. The see-saw battle between the Pats and Giants, helped by the unique fact that many viewers are actually eager to watch the commercials for this show, without doubt also resulted in the biggest HD viewership of any program in HDTV’s admittedly short history.

In the markets of both teams, ratings predictably went through the roof with Fox stations WNYW-TV in New York (DMA no. 1) registering a 44.9/67 rating and WFXT-TV in Boston (DMA No. 7) pulling in a stunning 55.6/81, according to preliminary Nielsen “overnights.”

But detailed local and national ratings for HD viewers likely will not become a reality until next year’s final game. Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay on Feb. 1, 2009—which pops up only a couple of weeks prior to the analog turn-off—will see NBC Sports pushing out its 1080i transmission feeds to an audience that likely will be far more into HD than now, despite impressive HD gains on all fronts in the past year.

Last fall, Nielsen said barely more than 11 percent of U.S. TV homes were capable of viewing at least one HD channel. And while that was before the jump in HD sales in the 2007 holiday season, Nielsen’s HD numbers are far smaller that the CEA’s estimates of current HD penetration (HD Notebook, Oct. 31, 2007).

Yet for another reason maybe it’s just as well that no hard HD viewer numbers likely will be available for last Sunday’s game: If all those surveys are to be believed, a great many viewers still think they’re watching shows in HD but are really watching SD channels on their HD sets (HD Notebook, Nov. 14, 2007). By next year, especially with the final DTV transition coming, the public’s learning curve should be less severe than now.

The top-rated show of all time remains the final episode of M*A*S*H, capturing nearly 106 million viewers almost a quarter of a century ago.