ESPN Wins Night as 'MNF' Draws 16.7 Million Viewers

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The lights might have gone out twice at Candlestick Park, but viewers stayed with ESPN's Monday Night Football matchup of the San Francisco 49ers-Pittsburgh Steelers, registering cable's sixth largest audience of 2011.
The high-profile Dec. 19 telecast -- with their 20-6 win, the 49ers improved to 11-3, while the Steelers slipped to 10-4 -- averaged a 10.1 national rating, 11.7 cable mark, 11.6 million households and nearly 16.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen data.
The game ranks as the sixth largest audience on cable in 2011, seventh in households, while driving ESPN to the top spot in TV among households, viewers and all key male and adult demos, according to network officials.
Those deliveries were well above the network's season averages, which now stand at an 8.3 U.S. rating, 9.6 cable rating, 9.53 million households and 13.1 million watches. Those figures are significantly below last season's deliveries of a 9.1 national rating, 10.5 coverage area mark, 10.49 million households and almost 14.7 million watchers. The 2010 season, ESPN's fifth with the venerable football franchise, was the worldwide leader's best ever, and ranks as cable's all-time top series performance.
ESPN's 2011 finale on Dec. 26 pits Atlanta against New Orleans. Last year's matchup, though, is a tough act to follow: the contest in which the Saints triumphed 17-14 over the Falcons drew 19.1 million watchers, the fifth most in cable history.