More than 50 million viewers watched the New York Giants defeat the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game — a number that, if not quite Super Bowl-sized, was astonishing nevertheless.
Why? Because typical TV shows — even high-rated ones — don’t get numbers like that. Only the Super Bowl does better. And the only other annual TV staple that comes close is the Academy Awards, although the Oscars haven’t drawn an audience over 50 million since 1998 (that was the year “Titanic” won Best Picture).
Fox dominated the prime-time picture on Sunday night with the Giants-49ers game, averaging 52.399 million viewers from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. (6-9:30c). (Note: Kickoff was a bit before 7, but the Nielsen overnights encompass only prime time, which runs from 7/6c to 11/10c on Sunday nights.)
The highest-rated half-hours for the game: 7-7:30, 57.092 million; and 10-10:30, 55.064 million. Audience figures for the special one-hour “American Idol” that aired after the game were a little difficult to interpret because the show went past 11 p.m (10c). For the record, the 10:30-11 p.m. half-hour on Fox — part postgame show and part “Idol” — drew 33.648 million, according to Nielsen.
No other programming on the other networks came close to the game’s audience, of course. In fact, ratings for the other nets were likely depressed because of the football game. The highest-rated show among the other networks Sunday night was “Once Upon a Time” on ABC with 9.295 million viewers from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (7-8c).
Meanwhile, CBS claimed big ratings for its own football game Sunday — the AFC Championship Game won by the New England Patriots over the Baltimore Ravens (with that heart-breaking ending in which the Ravens’ kicker, Billy Cundiff, missed a routine field goal that would have tied the game, but ended it instead).
CBS said on Monday that its Sunday afternoon AFC game scored a 29.1 rating and 51 share — the highest such numbers for an early afternoon AFC championship since 1994 (Kansas City vs. Buffalo). CBS said its viewership peaked near the emotional end of the game — a 34.9/56 for the 6-6:15 p.m. (5-5:15c) quarter hour.
(What the numbers mean: The “rating” means 29.1 percent of all TV households were tuned to the game on Sunday afternoon; the “share” means the game was being watched on 51 percent of all the TV sets in use. So-called “total viewer” figures such as the ones available for Sunday prime time, are not readily available to the news media for afternoon programming such as Sunday’s AFC game.)
As for the Super Bowl, when it comes to ratings, that annual event is in a class by itself. For example, last year’s Super Bowl XLV drew 111.01 million on Fox (the Packers beat the Steelers). And, FYI: The last time the New York Giants played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl — in February 2008 — the game drew 97.5 million viewers on Fox.
This year’s matchup — Super Bowl XLVI — will take place live from Indianapolis on Sunday, Feb. 5, on NBC. Kickoff’s at 6:30 p.m. (5:30c).