To those of us who are friendly with and admire beleaguered broadcasters, the strength of the 2010 Super Bowl Nielsen performance was most welcome. According to Nielsen, the game delivered a 46.4 household rating and a 68 share. The 106 million viewers was a U.S. record for an individual telecast.
Since then, the press has picked up on the strength and done some stunningly bad reporting. Also, some media researchers who definitely know better have apparently deliberately distorted the performance.
Here is my beef: There is no question that this Super Bowl reached more people than any other U.S. telecast in history. And, the Doritos spot was the most viewed commercial ever for a one time event. But, creeping in to interviews are comments such as “this is the highest rated program ever.” These people are media researchers or media reporters. They damn well know what the term rating means.
A rating is the percentage of the total household base or specific demographic that is tuned in to a specific program. By that definition, the real one, as strong as this Super Bowl was, it is not anywhere close to the highest rated show in U.S. television history.
It approached the final episode of “Roots” which delivered a 51.1 rating on January 30, 1977. And, it is compared the most to the final episode of MASH, which delivered a 60.2 rating and 77 share way back in 1983. But in 1983, we had a TV household base of 83.3 million. Today, it is 115 million TV households. So, while the Super Bowl delivered more viewers than MASH, and passed the MASH finale as the most viewed program, it was not higher rated by a long shot. It benefited mightily from a household base that has grown 38% since 1983.
Some of you wrote to me asking for comments about the commercials in the game. It was an okay year. I liked the Betty White Snickers spot and the Doritos park bench commercial. Why did several spots feature men with no pants? Perhaps there was a lack of true creativity going on. Also, the hype around the Google spot surprised me. I thought that I had seen it a few months ago on two of my favorite venues—Hulu.com and You Tube. Actually, they added 8 seconds and a new musical bed creating a :60 that gave it a gigantic audience for the big game. But some of us, arguably without lives, saw it or something close to it some time ago.
Finally, I tried to find out what was truly the highest rated TV show of all time. Several claimants are out there but the one that intrigued me the most was the Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956. It was Elvis Presley’s first appearance on that show. I was only a little fellow but I remember it vividly and especially my father’s reaction. Some accounts say that the bumbling Ed Sullivan did not introduce Elvis but rather it was Academy Award winning British actor Charles Laughton. That had to be surreal. The account of early Nielsen data that I found said that Elvis delivered an 82.6 rating that night. If it is true it only goes to underscore that while nearly 54 years have passed, Elvis remains the King.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org