Fox's Not-Quite Super Bowl,1,4267,00.html

It was a lackluster game between teams from the nation’s No. 10 (Atlanta) and No. 14 (Denver) markets, the outcome was pretty much decided midway through the second quarter, and only the John Elway-led Denver Broncos enjoy a significant national following. In other words, Super Bowl XXXIII wasn’t pretty.

Still, the worst-rated Super Bowl since Denver lost to San Francisco in 1990, and second-lowest rated since 1971, did what it had to do: get the win for Fox. Fox earned $150 million in ad revenue for the broadcastóthe biggest single-day payout in tube history. And even with low numbers, the Super Bowl helped Fox win the weekly Nielsen race. It also managed to vault Fox into a season first-place tie with NBC for that all-important, advertiser-friendly 18-49 demographic, a first for Rupert Murdoch’s television net.

All told, Sunday’s 34-19 Denver Broncos win produced an average rating of 40.2 for Fox, capturing 61 percent of the viewing audienceóabout 83.7 viewers, according to Nielsen figures out Tuesday.

Still, comparing this year’s ratings to games nine years, or even 28 years ago, is like comparing footballs to hockey pucks, since the overall tube audience is bigger than ever. An estimated 127.5 million viewers watched at least part of the game. The end result: This crummy game was the sixth most-watched TV broadcast, behind the ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97 and ’98 Super Bowls. And dud or not, this was the kind of “big event” boost Fox was looking for in 1993 when it began going after big-time pro sports. Analysts give Fox an outside shot at beating NBC for the season among the 18-49 crowd (CBS will likely win the overall ratings race). But, of course, that will depend a lot on the Rupert Net’s non-sports programming. For that, Fox did what network’s always do when they show the Super Bowl – hype the bejesus out of their shows.

For Fox – showcasing the midseason debut of its animated sitcom Family Guy, which was previewed after the game it had nearly 12 hours of pre-, post- and actual-game air time to show things like Celebrity Trivia (Melrose Place stars in lingerie asking each other football questions) and another in-the-stands shot of Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart (Fox zoomed in on her at the World Series last October, too).

Thanks to the hype and the huge lead in, Family Guy produced the second highest 18-49 ratings ever for a Fox premiere or preview, getting an 11.6 overall rating and a 26 percent audience share. Meanwhile, the show that produced Fox’s still-reigning debut record, The Simpsons, enjoyed its best ratings in four years, following Family Guy with a (you guessed it) Super Bowl-themed episode.