NEW YORK — With a partial power outage, an overly excited quarterback and a game that suddenly turned from snoozer to sizzler, CBS had its hands full at the Super Bowl. The game fell short of setting a viewership record, but it stands as the third most-watched program in U.S. television history.
The Nielsen Co. said an estimated 108.4 million people watched the Baltimore Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The most-watched events in U.S. TV history were last year’s game, seen by 111.3 million, and the 2010 game, with 111 million viewers.
CBS had hoped to make it the fourth year in a row that football’s ultimate game broke the record for most-watched event in American television history. But pro football ratings in general have been down slightly this year.
When the Ravens‘ Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown to give his team a 28-6 lead, CBS‘ dream of a ratings record surely became even more distant. And then half the lights went out. CBS‘ ratings immediately dipped by two full points in the overnight measurement of big cities.
When the lights returned, so did the 49ers. They quickly jumped back in the game, and CBS‘ audience, no doubt fueled by social media chatter, came back, too. CBS was blessed with the dream of every network that telecasts the Super Bowl: a game that isn’t decided until the final play.
CBS had a moment of dead air when the field darkened, since power was lost in the broadcast booth where Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were calling the game. After a commercial break, sideline reporter Steve Tasker appeared to say there had been a power outage. CBS then filled time with its football pregame team, showing highlights and speculating on how the delay would affect the teams.
The power outage was an immediate hot topic for quips and questions online. There were an estimated 47.7 million social media posts during the game, according to the company Trendrr TV, which tracks activity on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. That compares with 17 million during last year’s game and 3 million in 2010, Trendrr said.
Baltimore had the highest rating of any individual city, Nielsen said. San Francisco was not among the top 10 cities in ratings.
“No one should be surprised that a jubilant quarterback might use profane language while celebrating a career-defining win, but that is precisely the reason why CBS should have taken some precautions,” said Tim Winter, president of the lobbying group, asking for the Federal Communications Commission to rebuke CBS.
The network had no immediate comment Monday on the complaint.
CBS has said it was airing the pregame, postgame and halftime portions of the show on tape delay to guard against the use of bad language or wardrobe malfunctions. The postgame delay does not begin until the first block of commercials after the game, which hadn’t happened before Flacco’s expletive.