Super Bowl LVIII Is the Most-Watched Telecast Since the Moon Landing

Sunday’s Super Bowl averaged 123.4 million viewers across multiple platforms, primarily CBS and Paramount+, according to preliminary numbers. The number also captures viewing on Nickelodeon, Univision, and CBS Sports (as well as across Univision and NFL digital properties, including NFL+), and is the most for any U.S. telecast since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Large as it already is, the Super Bowl tally will likely grow a bit when final figures come out.

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The Moon walk is believed to have averaged as many as 150 million viewers (of about 203 million Americans at the time), a feat capable in part due to the fact that there were only three broadcast networks in the U.S. at the time. But even that is, at best, a rough estimate based on how Nielsen measured viewership back then; the U.S. population is more than 330 million today.

By 9/11, fragmentation across broadcast and cable TV had resulted in lower viewers for any one individual channel. Some 15 years later, streaming fragmented audiences further. The events of January 6, 2021 did result in the single highest viewership on any day in CNN’s history, however.

How does that compare to India and China, the only two countries that could have more-viewed broadcasts? (They’re the only two countries with a higher population than the U.S. — and networks are mostly country specific. There isn’t really a true global network.) Both do have single-network broadcast events with higher viewership. The 2011 Cricket World Cup drew 340 million viewers in India on Star Sports Network (a big part of why 21st Century Fox and then Disney wanted that brand). And each year, China Central Television’s broadcast of the annual Spring Festival brings 700 million to 1.17 billion viewers, if you believe the Chinese government.

Super Bowl LVIII was a good game — especially late — and that is the single most-important factor for a major sporting event to drive TV ratings. And yes, Taylor Swift certainly helped too.

The Kansas City Chiefs came from behind to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, 25-22. The game, which had been 10-3 in favor of the Niners at halftime, ended on a walk-off touchdown toss from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Mahomes, who finished with 333 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Had San Francisco’s overtime field goal been enough to win, the MVP likely would have come down to running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Jauan Jennings.

R&B singer Usher was the halftime show. He was joined by Alicia Keys, Lil Jon, Ludacris, H.E.R., and Jermaine Dupri. Reba McIntyre sang the national anthem on Sunday; Andra Day sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Super Bowl LVIII took place in Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Raiders. In the spirit of Sin City’s main tourist trap, the underdog Chiefs (+2.5) won outright (and thus, on the money line) and the 47 points in total paid out on the Under.

The Super Bowl is, by many multiples, the most-watched TV show of the year, every year. After Nielsen’s final final tally was in, the 2023 Super Bowl averaged a whopping 115.096 million viewers, the biggest ever at the time. (Earlier-available data had Super Bowl LVII at 113.055 million viewers.) The Chiefs won that one in a high-scoring barnburner vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 2014-2017 Super Bowls round out the rest of the Top 5 Super Bowls of all time in terms of viewership.

Additional contribution by Christian Blauvelt.

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