An average of nearly 89 million viewers stuck with Super Bowl XXXVII on Sunday -- the game's largest audience in five years -- even though the play was so one-sided, ABC bragged yesterday.
Yeah, right -- as if anyone still watches the Super Bowl for the football. Hello -- it's the ads.
Meanwhile, ABC's chick drama "Alias," which got the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot, may have copped its biggest audience ever -- 17.4 million viewers -- but that's the smallest audience for a post-Super Bowl show since at least the early '90s. Last year, Fox's broadcast of "Malcolm in the Middle" nabbed 21.5 million viewers; in 2001 the debut of "Survivor: Whatever" clocked a whopping 45.4 million.
Maybe that's because "Alias" had the latest start ever for a post-Super Bowl show: 11 p.m. Two years ago, CBS began its post-bowl "Survivor" broadcast at 10:17 p.m., as God intended. It was over a little after 11 -- right around the time "Alias" was just revving up this past Sunday.
It's not like the game ran long; play ended at 10:18 p.m. But ABC delayed "Alias" to run a Bon Jovi "concert" -- did you notice there was no one in the stands while Mr. Jovi was singing, and if Bon Jovi sings but only cheerleaders are listening, did Bon Jovi actually sing? -- and the traditional Post-Super Bowl Thick-Necked Guys Blatherathon.
Sunday's game was the most watched since 1998, when a whopping 90 million watched Denver beat Green Bay, 31-24. Advertisers that year got quite a bargain. It cost them little more than $1 million to run a 30-second spot in that broadcast; this year they paid nearly twice as much to reach a million fewer viewers.
The good news for advertisers is that overall, the commercial breaks during Sunday's game drew more viewers than did the action on the field, according to TiVo, the digital video recording company.
That Reebok commercial featuring Office Linebacker Terry Tate, who'd been hired to tackle -- literally -- office slackoffs, was the most watched commercial in TiVo households that tuned in to the Super Bowl, the company reported.
Four Budweiser ads rounded out the Super Bowl's Commercial Top 5:
* The one where the guy is relieved when he meets his girlfriend's mom and she's hot, except then he discovers that she has a really big derriere and then he's sad.
* The one where the guy has three arms, which no doubt plays really funny on some alternate, guys-only planet.
* The one in which a bunch of Clydesdales are the football players and a zebra is the ref.
* The one in which a guy in an upside-down clown outfit goes into the bar to have a Budweiser, which he then appears to be pouring into his rectal orifice, which was actually where the guy's mouth was. You had to be there.
The much-touted Pepsi ad in which Ozzy Osbourne dreams his kids are Donny and Marie Osmond and then he wakes up and his wife is Florence Henderson only ranked No. 8.
TiVo analysis indicates that about 80 percent of the audience stayed with the broadcast even as Tampa Bay continued to widen its lead, and ABC stats tell a similar story. TiVo Senior Vice President Brodie Keast said the analysis makes painfully obvious that "even after the game was no longer competitive, viewers continue to stick with the broadcast, primarily to see the remaining commercials."
Will someone please send a copy of this TiVo report to Turner Broadcasting Systems Chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner? He's the guy who last summer warned TV critics that if TiVo and its competitors ever penetrate a substantial number of TV homes (as of last fall, TiVo had only 500,000 subscribers), free broadcast TV as we know it will be dead, because viewers will skip over all the commercials and then companies will quit advertising on TV shows.
According to TiVo, Dwight Smith's first interception return for a touchdown was the most viewed play of the game; viewership dropped to its lowest point during the blather that started halftime but revived when Gwen Stefani appeared with Sting.
ABC yesterday also bragged that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' drubbing of the Oakland Raiders reached an estimated 137.65 million viewers during its four-hour broadcast, making it the second most viewed Super Bowl in history.
That is a surfer stat, tallying how many people saw as little as six minutes of the game, rather than the average viewership, which is what goes in the record books. If you're a Budweiser executive you care passionately about this stat because it's assumed that anyone who watched just six minutes saw an ad break and so probably saw a Budweiser commercial.
ABC also noted that the game scored the highest ratings for young adults since ABC last carried the game in 2000. Among the game's younger viewers were more than 7 million 12-to-17-year-olds, who may have caught some of those ads for new flicks they can't see unless accompanied by an adult.
In the past, ABC parent Disney has promised that it would not air ads for R-rated movies before 9 p.m.
This year's Super Bowl coverage, which started at 6 p.m. if you include Celine Dion singing "God Bless America," the Dixie Chicks singing the national anthem, and the coin toss, included ads for upcoming flicks "The Life of David Gale" and "Tears of the Sun," both rated R, as well as "Daredevil," rated PG-13.
But mostly the ads were for flicks that had not yet been rated because they won't open for months or, in one case, nearly a year. Yes, it's a little odd to see a commercial for a movie that won't be out for a year, like the ad touting the next two "Matrix" sequels -- the second of which will be released in late 2003 -- but hey, a promise is a promise.
Among the Not Yet Rated movies hawked during Super Bowl XXXVII: the next "Terminator" movie ("T" and "T2" were both rated R, so it's a safe bet this one will be as well), those two "Matrix" flicks ("The Matrix" was R-rated) and the new "Charlie's Angels" movie (the first having been rated PG-13).
Also not yet rated but hawked nonetheless were "Anger Management," starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler, and the new "Hulk" film starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly.
Celebrity editor Tina Brown is getting her own TV specials, on CNBC.
The cable network says it plans to air four "Topic A With Tina Brown" shows a year. And if that's not enough, the first, debuting on Thursday, March 20, just days before the Academy Awards, will be about -- Hollywood!
"I am attracted to hosting a television show with CNBC that informally brings together some of the lively minds I have come across in my life as a print journalist," said Brown, who was, successively, editor in chief of Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Talk and who now writes a column for the Times of London and Salon.com.
CBS is rushing a second round of "Star Search" onto the air during the February sweeps, and two more of its scripted series, the low-rated "Presidio Med" and "Queens Supreme," have bitten the dust, effective immediately.
The finale of "Star Search" is scheduled for Feb. 9. But CBS is loath to let go of a franchise that is doing great numbers, even opposite Fox's "American Idol." So a rush order is in and the second edition will debut on Feb. 19.
The next round of "Star Search" will air Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.