Various news sources are reporting that Super Bowl XLIV will likely go down as the most viewed television program ever with approximately 106.5 million viewers. The record was previously held by the M*A*S*H series finale with 105.97 million viewers. Apparently though, the numbers are subject to a margin of error and thus might change a bit.
Even if it doesn't surpass the previous record, it's an impressive number in its own right. The previous record for Super Bowl rating was last year's matchup between Arizona and Pittsburgh, which had approximately 98.7 million viewers. Even with a dip from the overnight number, this year seems certain to at least surpass last year's Super Bowl.
When I first read this, I was thinking the matchup of the top 2 teams in the league was a factor. However, in reality, I can't imagine that led to too much of a bump since actual football fans were generally going to watch this game no matter the opponent. Maybe a few extra with this matchup but not too many.
As the link above suggests, the national story line of New Orleans and Katrina and whatnot had to have helped the ratings. At the Super Bowl party I attended, there were many non-football fans who could tell you they were rooting for New Orleans because of everything that went down there.
This year's Super Bowl also appeared to benefit from the huge snowstorm in the greater Washington, DC region. The New Orleans media market had the highest rating for the game, but the second highest rating came from Washington, DC. I have a bunch of friends that live out there, and there Facebook messages said it all. Nobody was going anywhere this past weekend, so they might as well watch the Super Bowl.