NEW YORK – An estimated 89.6 million people watched the New England Patriots' (search) thrilling Super Bowl (search) victory over the Carolina Panthers (search), a slight increase over last year's game.
During the fourth quarter scoring explosion capped by Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal, the audience swelled to 98.5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Last year's Tampa Bay-Oakland matchup was seen by 88.6 million people, Nielsen said.
It was the most-watched Super Bowl game since the 1998 Green Bay-Denver contest was seen by 90 million people.
Nielsen estimates that 143.6 million people watched at least some part of the game, the most-ever for a Super Bowl. The 89.6 million figure is the average audience size during a given minute and is the number accepted in the industry to convey how many people watched a program.
This year's game, with the ending in doubt until the final seconds, was a "dream come true" for CBS, said David Poltrack, the network's chief researcher.
An estimated 33.3 million people stayed with CBS to watch the first episode of the all-star "Survivor" (search) game, Nielsen said. That enabled "Survivor" to eclipse "American Idol" (search) as the most-watched entertainment program on television this season.
That paled compared to the 45.4 million people who watched in 2001 when the second "Survivor" edition premiered directly after the Super Bowl.
CBS believes the "Survivor" numbers were held down, at least in part, because the hour-long show didn't begin until nearly 11 p.m. ET. The network announced it would rebroadcast the "Survivor" episode Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.
The time slot after the Super Bowl is considered one of the most valuable pieces of TV real estate, but it's no guarantee people will keep the television on.
Last year, only 17.3 million people sampled "Alias" on ABC, and 21.4 million watched "Malcolm in the Middle" on Fox in 2002.