The viewership eclipses the 112.2 million who watched Seattle beat Denver in the 2014 game, the Nielsen company said. The game also set standards for social media and online.
"Right now the NFL and the Super Bowl are defying media gravity," Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Group chairman, said on Monday. With the buildup involving the league's two top teams and a controversy over the inflation of footballs in the Patriots' conference championship, the game may have set another record even without the compelling finish, he said.
But that finish — a circus catch to put the Seahawks on the doorstep of a last-minute win and a game-saving interception by the Patriots' Malcolm Butler — kept viewers glued to the tube. An estimated 120.3 million people were watching during the last 10 minutes that the game was being shown, Nielsen said. Lazarus said there were likely even more viewers, because Nielsen doesn't count people watching in sports bars, for example.
In Canada , CTV reported in a release that an average audience of 9.2 million viewers on CTV and RDS watched the big game. That's a 13 per cent increase over the previous average of 8.18 million viewers for the 2012 Super Bowl and a 16 per cent increase compared to last year's game.
The ratings attest to the continued strength of the NFL as a television property despite a year of controversy over the league's response to domestic violence, and also to the ongoing power of live events to bring viewers together before their televisions.
Katy Perry has bragging rights, too. The singer's halftime performance was seen by 118.5 million people, the biggest audience ever for the halftime entertainment dating back to 1991, Nielsen said.
Facebook said an estimated 65 million people conversed about the game on the social media site, more than any other Super Bowl and second only to two World Cup games last year for most talked-about events. There were some 265 million individual posts, comments or "likes," Facebook said.
The moment drawing the most Facebook comments was just after the Patriots sealed the 28-24 victory, with the second being when Katy Perry soared through stadium for her "Firework" finale to the Super Bowl halftime show.
Twitter estimated there were 28.4 million tweets posted between the kickoff and 30 minutes after the game's conclusion, surpassing last year's game to be the most tweeted-about Super Bowl ever. It was second only to the 35.6 million tweets sent about last year's World Cup semifinal between Brazil and Germany.
Butler's interception really set the Twitter engines revving, with an estimated 395,000 tweets per minute, with 379,000 tweets per minute coming when the game actually ended, Twitter said.
The television record came despite other options to view it. NBC Sports offered a live stream of the game to desktop computers and tablets, and an average of 800,000 people per minute were following the game in this manner, according to Adobe Analytics. Last year's game streamed by Fox had an average audience of 528,000 viewers.
An additional 600,000 watched the game with Spanish-language announcers on an NBC Universal cable network, Lazarus said.
For NBC Universal, the true value of broadcasting the game may be learned in the next few weeks. The company advertised upcoming shows on NBC, USA and E! Entertainment, and tried to drive viewers to the struggling "Today" show by featuring an interview with President Obama by that show's Savannah Guthrie during the pregame.
An estimated 26.5 million people kept their sets on to watch an episode of NBC's "The Blacklist" following the game, making it the most-watched scripted program on the network in more than a decade.
A special edition of the "Tonight" show had 9.8 million viewers, Fallon's second-biggest audience after his debut last year.
Meanwhile, the digital video recorder maker TiVo reported that the top commercial played back by its users was Budweiser's "lost dog" spot. The second most played-back was the public service announcement about domestic violence involving a woman's 911 call for help.
Given the game's large audience, that indicates the ad was a real conversation-starter on the issue of domestic violence, said Tara Maitra, TiVo's senior vice-president and general manager of content and media sales.
TiVo's ad ranking is also a reflection of the more serious tone taken by advertisers, she said. In the past, humorous and sometimes raunchy ads have generated the most TiVo playbacks.