Boosted by the New Orleans-Atlanta season finale that generated the third-largest audience in cable history, ESPN recorded its best season with Monday Night Football.
The Dec. 27 contest generated a 13.0 cable rating (11.2 national), 12.96 million households and 19.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen data.
Those numbers helped push ESPN's fifth season with the franchise it took over from Disney broadcast brethren ABC to the top of the ratings charts. Over 17 contests in the 2010 NFL season, MNF averaged a 10.5 rating, (9.1 U.S.), 10.49 million households and 14.66 million watchers, gains of 1%, 2% and 2%, respectively, over the 10.4 rating, 10.3 million households and 14.38 million watchers in the 2009 campaign, which had been ESPN's previous best.
As such, MNF was the most-watched series on cable for a fifth consecutive year, drawing the 16 biggest cable household audiences and the top 12 with viewers in 2010.
In five seasons on ESPN, MNF has registered the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history, four of which occurred this season. The franchise has also notched nine of the 10 largest viewership totals, headed by the Oct. 5, 2009 Green Bay-Minnesota game with 21.8 million and the Nov. 30, 2009 meeting between New England-New Orleans with 21.3 million. Monday's game, in which New Orleans topped Atlanta 17-14, now stands third overall with 19.1 million viewers.
Only the Aug. 17, 2007 premiere of Disney Channel's High School Musical 2, which ranked ninth with 17.2 million watchers, prevented MNF from claiming all 10 of cable's top audiences.