For the fourth time in five years, the Super Bowl has set a record for the most-watched television event in U.S. history, drawing 111.5 million viewers even though the Seattle Seahawks' 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos wasn't really competitive.
The ratings record is further evidence of how live events are becoming dependable and valuable properties for broadcast television at a time the audience is fragmenting and ratings for regular entertainment shows continue to fall.
"Big-event television is a great way for people to have a communal event, to talk about it socially and to talk about it as a group," said Bill Wanger, executive vice president for programming and research at Fox Sports. "You see that in the Super Bowl numbers of the past four or five years. They've just gone up to a different level."
The game also set standards for the most-streamed sports event online and, with 24.9 million tweets, the biggest U.S. live TV event on Twitter.
The Seattle victory eclipsed the 111.3 million viewers who watched the 2012 Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, according to the Nielsen company. Until last year's game dipped slightly to 108.7 million, the Super Bowl had set ratings records for the previous three years in a row.
"We were a little surprised, absolutely," Wanger said. The blowout had some at Fox worried that enough people would tune out in the fourth quarter to ruin any chance at a ratings record. So when Percy Harvin ran the opening kickoff of the second half back for a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 29-0 lead, "let's just say we weren't popping Champagne bottles," he said.
But initial interest in the game — perhaps fueled by its New York-area setting — was high enough to overcome the lopsided score. Ratings for the opening kickoff were 12 percent higher than they were for last year's game, Fox said. For the New York market, the Super Bowl rating was higher than it was two years ago when the hometown Giants were winning in dramatic fashion.
Fox said an average of 528,000 people watched the live Internet stream of the game, peaking at the end of the third quarter. The number of Super Bowl-related tweets was up from 24.1 million last year.
The moment of peak activity on Twitter came after Harvin's TD jaunt. Harvin's run produced a 381,605 tweet per minute average, the company said. The next biggest peaks of activity came when Jermaine Kearse caught a touchdown pass and Malcolm Smith returned an interception for a touchdown.
There was a big boost in people going to Twitter during particularly memorable parts of the game, said Brian Poliakoff, Twitter spokesman.
It was a big night — and day after — for halftime star Bruno Mars, too. Nielsen said an estimated 115.3 million people watched Mars and his guests, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That makes it the most-watched Super Bowl halftime show ever, eclipsing Madonna's performance two years ago.
Mars' album, "Unorthodox Jukebox," moved into No. 1 on the iTunes album chart on Monday, while his debut "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" is at No. 3. Mars has 11 songs in the top 100 of the iTunes singles chart.
The three biggest moments on Twitter were also the three most talked-about events on Facebook, that social media company said. Fifty million people accounted for more than 185 million game-related interactions on Facebook.
PBS turned to social media last week to promote its airing of "Downton Abbey" against the Super Bowl. The public broadcasting service asked on social media sites whether people wanted to watch drama or the game, and an estimated 6.8 million people watched "Downton Abbey" on Sunday. While that's down from the season average of 8.6 million, it was 200,000 more people than the British drama had going against the Super Bowl last year.
Fox said that 25.8 million people stuck around after the game to watch the comedy "New Girl" with Prince as guest. The Golden Globe-winning comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which followed "New Girl," had 14.8 million viewers.