On Sunday, Feb. 3, PBS - and its star program, Downton Abbey, went up against the TV ratings behemoth that is the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, the historical British soap scored a 4.4 Nielsen household rating, averaging around 6.6 million viewers.
Those audience numbers - up 69 percent from the same Sunday last year - were actually good enough to put the program in second place for all of television that night. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl averaged around 108.4 million viewers, down slightly from the record audience drawn in by last year's game.
In addition, PBS struck social media gold during the 34-minute Super Bowl blackout, garnering over 3,500 re-tweets from this post:
According to Paid
Content, a site that covers online business models, "PBS
was one a handful of brands, including Oreo and Audi, to “newsjack” the
so-called #BlackoutBowl. These nimble moves on social media typically garner a
flurry of free publicity but it’s unclear how much they change people’s
intention to purchase or watch something."
Judging by the better-than-expected ratings, this tweet may very well have had some impact on the programming decisions of some impatient football fans.
PBS is not a media outlet known for its hipness, ability to cause a social media craze, or ability to draw big ratings, so Super Bowl night was a bright light for the public television leader on several different fronts.