No, it's not the latest wireless device or MP3.com's next courtroom trial--it's CBS's "Survivor," which drew an average of 51.7 million viewers for the final episode, according to the Viacom-owned TV network.
The numbers make "Survivor" as popular as the '80s TV cliff-hanger "Dallas" episode, "Who Shot J.R.?" But this season's high-flying TV show about 16 castaways on a desert island also hit prime time on the Web.
Several TV shows have used Web tie-ins, including an episode of "The Drew Carey Show" last fall, and ABC's smash game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" which lets viewers play along at home. Analysts said "Survivor" was among the first of its kind to use the Web effectively as a means of support instead of using it as a substitute, such as Webcasting.
"This is really the first good use television has made on the Web...It really took advantage of the Web's ability to be interactive and to sort of provide a life for a television program beyond its television time," said Allen Weiner, an analyst for NetRatings. "What it did was it really captured the personality of the show, and it got people jazzed about it when it wasn't on."
Traffic to the CBS-sanctioned "Survivor" Web site jumped 115 percent Wednesday, the night of the final episode, from the previous day, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. But the total numbers were a trickle compared with the broadcast flood. On Wednesday, the site had 254,000 visitors compared with 118,000 Tuesday.
The effects of the show's popularity were also seen as viewers attempted to access the Web site to get more information.
Immediately following the airing of the episode, about 51 percent of viewers who attempted to download the site were successful, but they had to wait an average of almost 9 seconds to retrieve the home page from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PT, according to Internet performance measurement company Keynote Systems. The other half could not view the site.
The morning after the final episode, only about 64 percent were successful in downloading the site from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT, according to Keynote. During this period, viewers had to wait an average of nearly 12 seconds, which Keynote said was the "most significant and prolonged performance slowdown the site has experienced since its (May 31) debut," when CBS said it had to add servers shortly after the site crashed to get it running again.
"The results indicate the extent to which television viewers supplement television programming with online resources and underscore the popularity of the 'Survivor' show," Allen Tsai, Keynote's public services product manager, said in a statement.
Analysts said that because there is a new genre of programs that have come as a result of the show, CBS would have to come up with a way to take advantage of the "brand equity" they've given for "Survivor."
"People have a short attention span," said NetRatings' Weiner. "All kinds of reality shows have come on which will attempt to be able to create the same thing. They've got to come up with a fresh way of doing it."
CBS also has another program, "Big Brother," that features 10 people who are voted out of a house one at a time by the audience. The show lets viewers watch every movement of the occupants through its Web site.