ESPN Scores Highest TV Rating Ever With Football Finale

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Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN sports network said it attracted the largest audience in cable television history with last night’s telecast of college football’s national championship game between Ohio State and Oregon.

The inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship attracted 33.4 million viewers, a 31 percent increase over last year’s title game, the network said today in a statement, citing Nielsen data. ESPN said it has aired the 20 most-watched programs in the history of cable.

A new post-season system for college football, with a round of playoffs before a national championship, built viewer anticipation for the final, in which Ohio State defeated Oregon 42-20 in Arlington, Texas. The two semifinal games, which pitted Ohio State against Alabama and Oregon against Florida State, each attracted more than 28 million viewers.

“The inaugural College Football Playoff was a resounding success by all measures,” ESPN President John Skipper said in the statement.

ESPN paid $7.3 billion in 2012 for the rights to air the championship game and the six bowl games that can host the semifinals over a 12-year span. It also secured the rights to stream the game online via the WatchESPN streaming service. More than 1 million people tuned in to the game online.

The game had an 18.2 household rating, according to Nielsen. Each rating point represents 1 percent of the estimated 116.4 million U.S. television households.

(Updates with final ratings.)
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