NEW YORK (AP) -- Pro football's conference championships dominated viewership over the weekend, a vivid illustration of how big events have become so important to network television.
The Nielsen Co. said 47.7 million people watched the Baltimore Ravens defeat the New England Patriots for a trip to the Super Bowl. It was a rematch of the 2012 AFC Championship Game, and the ratings were similar, too. Last year's game had 48.7 million viewers.
NFC ratings were sharply down, however, perhaps a reflection of the size of the markets involved. An estimated 42 million people watched the NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, well below the 57.6 million who saw the New York Giants beat San Francisco last year. The Fox game aired Sunday afternoon.
With cable networks and digital video recorders siphoning viewership for regular programming on the broadcast networks, they have come to depend on big events for bursts of attention — things like awards shows and the Olympics.
Football is most helpful. Of 247 programs that have reached at least 20 million live viewers between Sept. 1, 2010, and Sunday, 136 of them were NFL games, according to Nielsen statistics analyzed by the NFL.
Next were 39 episodes of Fox's "American Idol," 18 nights of the London Summer Olympics and 18 episodes of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," Nielsen said.
That list did not include last week's season premiere of "American Idol" on Fox. Despite introducing new judges Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban, the show reached 17.9 million viewers last Wednesday. The show's Thursday edition had 16.3 million viewers, Nielsen said.
After the football games, last week's most-watched show was "NCIS" on CBS.
Cult favorite "Fringe" ended its five-year run on Fox last week with just over 3 million viewers, ranking No. 95 among all prime-time programming last week.
Except for the two "Idol" episodes, CBS had all of the week's 15 most popular programs. The network averaged 15.9 million viewers in prime time for the week (9.4 rating, 15 share). Fox had 7.5 million (4.4, 7), ABC had 5.8 million (3.8, 6), NBC had 3.7 million (2.4, 4), the CW had 1.6 million (1.0, 2) and ION Television had 1.1 million (0.7, 1).
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision averaged 3.9 million viewers (2.0, 3), Telemundo had 1.3 million (0.7, 1), UniMas had 580,000 (0.3, 1), Estrella had 230,000 and Azteca had 120,000 (both 0.1, 0).
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 9.2 million viewers (6.2, 11). ABC's "World News" was second with 8.5 million (5.7, 11), and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.2 million viewers (4.9, 9).
A ratings point represents 1,147,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 114.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of Jan. 14-20, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "AFC Championship: Baltimore vs. New England," CBS, 47.71 million; "AFC Championship Post-Game," CBS, 25.95 million; "NCIS," CBS, 22.86 million; "American Idol" (Wednesday), Fox, 17.93 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 17.64 million; "American Idol" (Thursday), Fox, 16.23 million; "Hawaii Five-0" (Sunday), CBS, 13.03 million; "Criminal Minds," CBS, 12.64 million; "2 Broke Girls," CBS, 12.45 million; "The Big Bang Theory" (Monday, 8:30 p.m.), CBS, 11.7 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox and My Network TV are units of News Corp. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks. TeleFutura is a division of Univision. Azteca America is a wholly owned subsidiary of TV Azteca S.A. de C.V.