College football's inaugural playoff championship game on Monday night is now in the books as the high-ratest cable television program of all time, drawing a staggering 18.5 overnight rating, according to Nielsen.
The Oregon-Ohio State game peaked between 9:30 p.m and 9:45 p.m. ET on ESPN, with a 20.5 metered market rating, said the New York-based research company.
Nielsen showed that the cable sports network garnered an 18.9 rating last night across the 12 different ways it offered in its Megacast, which included alternative viewing options on ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews. For comparison, that's more than twice the turnout seen by the top episodes of cable's most-watched show, The Walking Dead on AMC.
It's a huge win for ESPN, which inked a 12-year, $7 billion deal with the NCAA in 2012 for the rights to air collegiate pigskin's playoff. After the playoffs' semifinals round on New Year's Day garnered 28 million viewers with a roughly 15 rating, it's probably safe to say last night's audience exceeded 33 million households. Advertisers were charged up to $1 million per 30-second spot during the contest (which saw Ohio State beat Oregon, 42-20). You can expect that ad rate to go up considerably for next year's grand finale.
Another big winner is the Big Ten athletics conference, which is set to negotiate its TV deals with ESPN and other networks for the 2017 season and years beyond in the coming months. The value of college football appears to be on a sizable incline, and the Big Ten has expanded its geographical footprint in recent years by adding Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. With the conference's Ohio State reigning as national champion, the stars seem to be aligning for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to get premium contracts going forward. Months ago, it was widely speculated he'd get $44 million annually for 12 of his 14 member schools (Rutgers and Maryland will not be fully vested by 2017). That number may now be conservative.
Meanwhile, while not many brands treated last night's game like a huge TV event on Twitter, Butterfinger, Arby's, Duck Tape, Denny's and the comedian Bob Newhart contributed real-time efforts of note.