Super Bowl's Initial Ratings Beat Forecasts

However, Disney's stock isn't benefitting.
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Updated from 1:14 p.m. EST

As a game, Sunday's Super Bowl earned its moniker for a change. But as a business, the real question for

Walt Disney's

(DIS) - Get Report

ABC

network is whether it drew super numbers.

The initial ratings are in, and in an age of increasingly fractured audiences, it appears that the news is good. Super Bowl XXXIV, a nailbiter between Super Bowl novices

Tennessee Titans

and

St. Louis Rams

, averaged a better-than-expected 43.1 rating/60 share from 7-10 p.m EST, according to

Nielsen Media Research

.

That number is based on ratings in the 47 largest U.S. markets; the final national number will probably come in around a 40, which would be on par with last year's matchup -- broadcast on

News Corp.'s

(NWS) - Get Report

Fox network -- between the

Atlanta Falcons

and the

Denver Broncos

, said Marc Berman, senior television writer who closely follows television ratings for the trade publication

Mediaweek.com

.

Each national rating point equals 1,008,000 television households, or 1% of the total; share is the percentage of sets tuned to a specific show. Based on the assumption that 2.5 viewers watched in each household, those numbers translate to some 100 million viewers in the U.S. alone, Berman said.

"I think last year's numbers were a huge disappointment," Berman said. "This year the bleeding was stopped. In today's environment of network audience erosion, it's nice to know that the Super Bowl still packs them in."

That said, Berman noted that the final rating will probably represent a 10% drop over the previous eight-year average. The lower number is probably in part a result of the fact that the game featured two smaller market teams without large national followings. It was the first trip to the Super Bowl for the Titans franchise, and only the second for the Rams.

That the game literally came down to the last second -- with the Rams holding on to win -- probably buoyed its overall numbers, said Michael Goodman, a media analyst with the

Yankee Group

in Boston.

"The fact that you had an excellent game mitigated any effect from the presence of small market teams," Goodman said. At 7 p.m. EST, around the end of the first quarter, the telecast posted preliminary ratings numbers of 41.1 and a 61 share. By 9:30 p.m. EST, as the game neared its white-knuckle climax, the number of viewers had jumped to 45.7 and a 62 share.

Despite the apparent good news, Disney stock did not immediately benefit, with the shares slipping 5/8, or 2%, to 36 1/8 in afternoon trading.

ABC's

The Practice

benefited from the Super Bowl as well, posting a season-high rating in an episode broadcast after the game ended. On Saturday night, the network ran a Super Bowl-themed version of its runaway hit

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

, which posted huge numbers as well.

"All in all, the executives at ABC should be very happy with these numbers," Goodman added.

"We're thrilled," said Susan Sewell, an ABC spokesperson.

ABC charged advertisers an average of $2 million for a 30-second commercial, and some advertisers paid as much as $3 million to $5 million for packages that included time in the four-hour pre-game show as well.

Much of the network's Super Bowl ad inventory was sold by September, and much of the ad time was purchased by Internet companies eager to make a splash by pouring millions into the network's coffers for a slice of what has become very valuable ad space.

Overall, ABC is said to have brought in around $120 million from in-game ad sales alone. Sewell declined to comment on that revenue figure. Last year, Fox collected around $95 million.