- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — While many eyes were focused on the United States‘ World Cup match against Ghana, the contest between Mexico and Argentina became the most-watched program ever for a Spanish-speaking network in the U.S.

The Nielsen Co. estimated that nearly 9.4 million people watched Argentina eliminate Mexico on Univision last week. An additional 5.5 million people watched that game on ESPN.

That topped Univision’s previous high, the 9 million people who watched the finale for the telenovela “Destilando Amor” (Distilling Love) in 2007, according to Nielsen.

“It’s very indicative of the changing face of America and consequently the growth of soccer in the United States,” said Cesar Conde, Univision president. “That’s a great trend on both fronts.”

The U.S. team’s loss to Ghana was seen by 19.4 million people, which was a larger audience than ever before for soccer on American television. Nearly 15 million of that audience was on ABC, with the rest tuning in to Univision, Nielsen said.

The elimination of Mexico takes away a favorite for Univision’s large Mexican-American audience. But Conde said there are other South American teams that offer a rooting interest. Four years ago, Univision’s audience grew following the Mexican team’s elimation.

“We would have liked to have seen Team USA,” he said. “But we’re always cheering for any of our Western hemisphere teams.”

ESPN, meanwhile, is looking to top the 12 million viewership it gathered for the 2006 final game between Italy and France.

Even without soccer, it was a milestone week for Univision. It was the top-rated network — Spanish or English — among 18- to 34-year-olds in prime-time. That’s happened four times before, but not this year, Nielsen said. Currently, Univision is in the middle of two popular telenovelas: “Hasta Que El Dinero Nos Separe” (For Love or Money) and “Soy tu Duena” (You Belong to Me).

The Discovery Network had its biggest audience ever for “Deadliest Catch,” which drew 5.4 million people last Tuesday to see how the cast would cope with the death of the popular character Capt. Phil Harris.

CBS won the week in prime-time, averaging 6.2 million viewers (4.1 rating, 8 share). NBC had 5.2 million and ABC had 5.1 million (both 3.2, 6), Fox had 4.5 million (2.8, 5), ION Television had 1.2 million (0.8, 1) and the CW had 900,000 (0.6, 1).

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision’s prime-time average was 3.6 million (1.8, 3), Telemundo had 1 million (0.5, 1), TeleFutura had 740,000 (0.4, 1), Azteca had 180,000 and Estrella 140,000 (both 0.1, 0).

NBC’s “Nightly News” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.2 million viewers (4.8, 10). ABC’s “World News” was second with 6.7 million (4.6, 10) and the “CBS Evening News” had 5.2 million viewers (3.5, 8).

A ratings point represents 1,149,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 114.9 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of June 21-27, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: “America’s Got Talent” (Wednesday, 9 p.m.), NBC, 12.37 million; “America’s Got Talent” (Tuesday), NBC, 11.65 million; “NCIS,” CBS, 9.72 million; “Wipeout” (Tuesday), ABC, 9.51 million; “The Mentalist,” CBS, 8.87 million; “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, 8.54 million; “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 8.32 million; “The Bachelorette,” ABC, 8.26 million; “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS, 8.18 million; “Wipeout” (Thursday), ABC, 7.88 million.