This year's Super Bowl, between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, demolished a 27-year-old ratings record to become the most-watched telecast in U.S. history. Its 106.5 million viewers edged out former record holder (the 1983 series finale of "M*A*S*H) and marked a nearly 50 percent increase over last year's Super Bowl audience. More surprising: Both teams hail from cities with relatively small TV-viewing markets. How to explain this phenomenon? Five theories:
1. The game itself: This showdown delivered "a perfect storm" of "name brand players" and "a close contest (at least until the end)" to secure its place in TV history, says James Poniewozik in Time.
2. The "underdog" narrative: The main reason the telecast broke records, says Dave Thomas, president of the Nielsen ratings company, was its "compelling" story: "The underdog Saints coming from behind against powerhouse Indianapolis Colts."
3. Hurricane Katrina: Credit the "inspirational season the New Orleans Saints gave its fans" — many of whom suffered losses in Hurricane Katrina, says Marc Hertz in Tonic, then factor in all the viewers eager to see the city of New Orleans enjoy a comeback. The game provided "a remarkable story of how a team can take a city on its back and bring its residents together in celebration."
4. Shifts in how Americans watch TV: Social media has created a national water cooler that lets viewers share thoughts as they watch a show, says Joe Flint in the Los Angeles Times: "Someone watching the game alone can now feel like they are watching it at a party without having to worry about cleaning up dishes later."
5. The weather: A disproportionate number of East Coasters were snowbound, with nothing to do but watch the Super Bowl, says Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post. "Thanks to Mother Nature," the biggest single-city audience, after New Orleans itself, was the excessively wintry Washington. D.C. where 56 percent of TV homes were "glued to the game."