With the addition of the Bowl Championship Series and live sports becoming more popular, ESPN said it posted its strongest first quarter ever in viewership numbers. The network averaged 1.08 million viewers for total day tracking -- up 17% from last year, which marked the previous record.
ESPN also averaged 854,000 households, up 14% from the 2010 previous record.
The BCS, which included the most-watched program in cable history, came to ESPN in January for the first time. The January-March period also included more popular NBA games and college basketball.
The viewing numbers go back to 1992 and actually cover Dec. 27-March 28. Lest the BCS be considered the sole driver of ratings jumps, ESPN said it also set records for the February and March months.
ESPN said it outperformed all other cable networks in both total day and prime time among men 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.
The BCS national title game between Auburn and Oregon averaged 27 million viewers-plus. Also, the five BCS games mark ESPN's highest-rated broadcasts in history, save NFL games.