That's actually pretty common.
While the Super Bowl is generally the most watched telecast of any given year and is a true juggernaut of programming, the press often tries to over sell the game's power.
It has become typical to report that the Super Bowl is the most watched telecast in TV history. Each year becomes a case of one-upmanship as facts are checked and attempts are made to lay claim that a special milestone in TV history has been reached during whatever year the reports are being written.
This claim can sometimes be legitimately made. As it turns out, the number of people who watch the Super Bowl has been on an uptrend for most of the past 50 years.
Some of the increase is attributable to the popularity of professional football. Also, team match-ups and scores can add to or subtract from the excitement of the game and drive viewership.
However, some of the growth in viewership is driven by population increases. For example, during the past 50 Super Bowls, the TV household population in the United States has more than doubled, increasing by approximately 62 million TV homes or +112%.
For those of us in research and analytics who seek greater depth to the numbers, calculating the percentage of people who watched the game is a more reassuring method of gauging the Super Bowl's popularity. Based on the preliminary figures reported by Nielsen, Super Bowl 50 on CBS was viewed by 111.9 million people on average. If we re-express this number as a percentage of the total U.S. population, that means about 38% watched Super Bowl 50 this past Sunday. The inverse suggests about 62% didn't watch.
Keep in mind that Nielsen is not a perfect research service and does not account for total TV viewership, like out-of-home locations that might include areas where people watched the game (i.e. bars, restaurants, etc).
Please note over the next few days and weeks, additional numbers will be reported taking into account additional viewing from time-shifted and streamed activity.
Founder & Consultant
Craig Jaffe Research 360°
About Craig Jaffe Research 360°:
Craig Jaffe Research 360° is a research and analytics consultancy that advises how consumer trends, behavioral shifts and attitudinal dynamics can be leveraged and monetized. The consultancy is hired to perform Analytics, Ad Sales Research, Program Research, and Consumer Insights. It utilizes a variety of resources -- such as Nielsen, Google, MRI, comScore, Rentrak, and others -- and employs data science, research, and analytic techniques while working with media and marketing companies operating in the television, digital, and mobile marketplaces. Craig Jaffe Research 360° helps television networks and websites increase ad sales and audiences, and helps advertising and media agencies activate consumer purchase behavior.