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NFL on FOX makes playoff ratings history

Sunday's epic 2010 NFC Championship on FOX between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings delivered an extraordinary 30.6/45 household rating/share and averaged over 57.9 million viewers, according to fast national figures released by Nielsen Media Research.

The overtime battle not only produced the biggest audience ever for an NFC Championship Game on FOX, it is also the second largest audience for any conference championship game, trailing only the 1982 Cowboys-49ers (Montana-to-Clark "The Catch") NFC Championship Game (68.7 million viewers on CBS).

Excluding Super Bowl broadcasts, last night's average audience of 57.9 million ascends the 2010 NFC Championship to television's most-watched program since the 1998 "Seinfeld" series finale (76.3 million viewers). It also ranks as the eighth most-watched show in the history of FOX, trailing only the network's five Super Bowls and two Super Bowl postgame shows.

Sunday night's fast national rating of 30.6/45 is a +40% gain over last year's 21.9/41 for Eagles-Cardinals in the early window and the highest rating for a conference championship game in 14 years (33.3/58 – Packers/Cowboys in 1996.) Ratings climbed to Super Bowl-like levels as the game progressed toward overtime, peaking at an astounding 34.4/48 rating and 65.2 million viewers from 9:30-10 p.m. ET.

New Orleans delivered a 63.2/82 last night, the highest local rating for a postseason NFL game ever, beating the home market rating of every team that has ever played in a Super Bowl. Viewing in New Orleans peaked at a 67.4/86 at 10:15 p.m. as Garrett Hartley drilled a 40-yard field goal to send the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl.

Minneapolis posted a 58.7/80 last night, which is in its own right the third highest local rating ever for an NFC playoff game on FOX, trailing only New Orleans for yesterday's game and Milwaukee in the 1997 Championship Game. Milwaukee was yesterday's No. 3 market at a 47.4/64 as Packer fans tuned-in in droves to watch Brett Favre's championship bid.

The 2010 NFC Playoffs go down in the record books as FOX's most-watched ever. FOX's four NFC Playoff games averaged 40.2 million viewers, besting the previous mark of 37.3 million set in 1995. Not only is this FOX's largest NFC Playoff viewership ever, it is the best for the NFC Playoffs on either FOX or CBS since Nielsen introduced the people meter during the 1987-88 season. This year's four NFC Playoff games averaged a 22.4/38 household rating/share, a +24% gain over last year's 18.1/33 and FOX's best since 1997 (23.7/48).