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Super Bowl LI: The Streaming Story

Super Bowl LI: The Streaming Story

The big game is over and wow, what a spectacle it was.  Every year, it seems we say that this game was better than the last.  And often, these statements are true.  But Super Bowl LI was, by any measure, extraordinary, breaking many Super Bowl records along the way.  

The Super Bowl is far and away the largest mass audience that tunes in to watch television every year.  But is has also become the biggest (insert term here) event every year.  For many years, that term has been “platform” for new and coolest/oddest/funniest television ad.  Lately, that term has become “online video”.  And year over year, the Super Bowl raises the bar in terms of groundbreaking elements - from the ratings, to the number of people who stream an event, to the use of technology in and around the event.  

This year, Fox Sports broadcast and streamed the Super Bowl.  Overall, the experience for me was good.  Fox did decide to dial back the broadcast frame rate of 720p60 to 720p30, and reduced the top end data rate from 5mbps to 3mbps.  They also used three content delivery networks (CDNs) to reach the anticipated massive audience.  The audience was massive - 113.7 million total watched, which includes streaming (1.7mm) and Fox Deportes (650K).  For reference, last year’s streaming audience topped 1.1 million views across all platforms.  On my end specifically, I had a hard time getting the browser experience to load the first frame of video, but after a second try I was good to go.  As we’ve noted in our Manifesto for Media, time to first frame is critical, especially for the biggest streaming event of the year.  Despite the planning, the stream did stop down for a few minutes in the 4th quarter, recovering after a short time.  Again - delivering on what is largely the biggest event and streaming audience every year is no trivial task, and sometimes even with the most diligent planning by smart organizations can see the occasional hiccup.  That said, the ad experience was spot on where the dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technology worked well to show me different ads in-stream than I was seeing on my television.  With ads playing such a bit part of the game, creatively and functionally - it is safe to say that ad insertion in streams of an event of this magnitude have reached the mainstream.  This is a great development.   

As aforementioned, technology played a role in this year’s Super Bowl too.  The halftime show starring Lady Gaga, dazzled many and received rave reviews.  What caught my eye though (literally) were the drones that were part of the performance.  Intel helped coordinate 300 of these flying technological marvels to form shapes like the American flag and, of course, its logo at the end of the show.  Still, this is another impressive use of tech as part of the entertainment experience.  

These are all great indicators for online video.  No doubt some pundits will talk about how the total audience ratings numbers shrink ever so slightly year after year.  But keep in mind that the audience for the big game, as well as most programming, is shifting.  We know and data shows us that audiences are shifting as well as consuming content in a mobile-first scenario.  This trend will do nothing but grow.  The Super Bowl is an annual primer for the year ahead in streaming, and we’re bullish on 2017.  Game on.