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Almost two weeks ago, the biggest TV event of the year occurred, and Super Bowl LI was as exciting and shocking a game as NFL fans could have hoped for. (Though the commercials were really lacking overall.) The on-field action shared headline space with this year's all-lit-up halftime special, as performed by natural stadium entertainer Lady Gaga. And while the actual Super Bowl itself is only fifth on the list in ratings, Gaga's musical medley is officially the most-watched halftime show in TV history, as well as the most-watched musical event in TV history.
After the final tallies were figured out, the NFL announced over 118 million people watched Lady Gaga's performance when it aired on Fox. So if it was a standalone piece of TV programming, it would have been the most watched TV broadcast ever, but as it stands, it's just part of the overall Super Bowl telecast, which reached an average of around 111.3 million viewers on February 5. For further comparison, the current #1 is Super Bowl XLIX from 2015, which had 115.2 million pairs of eyes glued to the screen for the Patriots victory over the Seahawks. More people watched Lady Gaga, though.
The success didn't just happen on linear televisions, either. Lady Gaga's show is also the most-viewed content on any of the NFL's various digital services, including its main website, its YouTube page, social media platforms, etc. Through those means, over 150 million different users racked up over 80 million views of the clip(s), with 260 million minutes of footage being streamed. One has to wonder how many of those minutes were watched in the days after the Super Bowl aired, when the mini-controversy over the opening segment of the performance being "faked."
None of this is the most difficult thing in the world to wrap one's head around. There was a lot of anticipation and excitement for Lady Gaga, a proven crowd-wower known for changing costumes, playing her own instruments and flying around as if gravity weren't an issue. Not to mention the interest bleeding over from the game itself. Plus, she followed Super Bowl halftime shows headlined by Coldplay, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars, so it would have been more shocking to hear that she got a smaller audience than any of them.
To give credit where credit is due, the most-watched scripted telecast of all time is the series finale of M*A*S*H. Its average viewership is reported at just under 106 million people, but it was a long-form TV movie with a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, so that result is just an average. The peak audience recorded during part of the finale was actually upwards of 125 million. Less people watched Lady Gaga.