Super Bowl XLVI Was the Most Watched TV Program in History

In the last few years, the Super Bowl has reached new heights of cultural saturation, setting and breaking the record for the highest watched TV broadcast not once or twice but three times, enough to make someone’s dad rage about the shallowness of American attention spans, maaaaaan. So yes, this is not a new thing. But it’s still eye-dropping to look at the audience numbers from last night’s Super Bowl XLVI: 111.3 million viewers, beating last year’s game by 300,000. That’s barely 20 million fewer people less than the number of voters in the 2008 presidential election! Think about that, maaaaan.

Deadline tracks down the numbers to show how the Super Bowl’s audience has really jumped up since 2010, when the audience increased from 2009’s 98.7 million to a then-record 106.5 million, beating the old standard set by the series finale of M*A*S*H. Of course, some of this seems matchup-dependent: we’ve seen three immensely appealing Super Bowls in the last three years — New England Patriots vs. New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints — each featuring big stars in big markets with big national fanbases, playing for big historical stakes. The numbers will probably regress a little bit if it ever comes down to Jacksonville and Carolina, I’m guessing.

The surprising thing? Despite a titillating conclusion to the game involving long drives and last-minute scores, Madonna’s halftime show was the most watched part of it all. Remember that when picking sides in the inevitable cultural civil war that tears this country apart.

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