Wow. What a game. What an experience. What in the world happened?
As my Boston Brightcove colleagues will attest, Super Bowl LII was a shocker and - for them - terrible, as it crushed their hopes of yet another Lombardi Trophy and stole from their fuel as contenders every year for another ring, another trophy. As sure as snow will settle on the Charles River in January, New Englanders see themselves ready to host another Super Bowl championship parade. Not this season though, as someone with a belly full of Geno’s Steaks sits atop a light pole in a Carson Wentz jersey, proud of his Eagles. Game aside, this year’s big contest will be notable for a number of things that didn’t meet the high bar of expectations. As the headline suggests, there were several events that led to a less than perfect experience in watching the game, both on broadcast and online.
First there was NBC’s 26-second broadcast outage. While it appeared to be costly in that there were commercials to be aired, NBC quickly explained that the outage was caused by equipment failure and that no game action or commercial time was missed.
Broadcast? Stream? Depends on How and Where You Are.
Super Bowl LII had an average online viewership of two million, a 15 percent gain over Fox a year ago. The stream was available on the NBC Sports app, NBCSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app, among others. The online audience peaked at 3.1 million concurrent streams. NBC offered its stream for free, keeping with tradition that their fellow broadcast networks have followed for the past several years. This year, the NFL Mobile app and Yahoo! Sports apps also carried the live stream. It is worth noting that this year, many more viewers also watched the big game on a variety of connected devices (Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Playstation, and Xbox).
The broadcast ratings, though fantastic by broadcast television standards, show a concern in viewing shift. Super Bowl broadcasts tend to pull in massive audiences. To wit, nine of the 10 most watched broadcasts in history are Super Bowl games, according to Nielsen data. Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks drew the largest audience ever, with 114.4 million viewers, according to NBC. This year’s game drew a 47.4 rating, which is down three percent year over year and likely to tally an overall audience near 110 million. That would make it the seventh most watched Super Bowl of all time. These numbers are still massive, despite the controversies and a slew of injuries to some of the league’s biggest stars.
As large as those ratings are, we’re not likely to be talking about them for very long. The 2018 Winter Olympics start this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea and I fully expect NBC’s streams to set records as the events play out. Fortunately for the folks at 30 Rock, the trophies for both events will live in the same case as both of these massive events are happening on their network and streams.
The Super Bowl is a broadcast ratings oasis, no matter the network holding the rights to the broadcast in any particular year. This is a welcome change from the regular season, which saw more declines in NFL viewership year over year. With changing consumption patterns and platforms for entire swaths of audience, streaming "is obviously a natural place to look to aggregate as as much audience as possible, because that is where more and more viewers are migrating to, with this whole idea of cord cutting," Tuna Amobi, director and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research recently told USA Today.
Cord cutting used to be a softly spoken, ‘bad word’ in the broadcast and service provider space. The phenomenon is better understood now though, where the aforementioned swaths of audience are net-new, but coming aboard on mobile-first means with their devices. The numbers show the impact to pay television too. Cord-cutting homes will grow to 18.9 million in 2021, according to eMarketer, and cord-never homes will hit 19.5 million.
Super Streams by the Numbers
In a trendline that any show or service would kill for, Super Bowl streaming viewership is expected to be up 45 percent over last year, according to a survey from digital agency Adtaxi. And, in another millennial trend to watch,the survey shows viewers aged 18 to 29 are the most likely (at 17 percent) to stream the game. It may take a day or so for those numbers to roll in, but I think the prediction is spot on. Historically, the Super Bowl stream audience numbers are quite the firework to watch, as they have climbed dramatically year over year.
In 2015, CBS’s live stream game drew an average of 1.4 million viewers per minute. In 2014, Fox Sports’ live streams attracted an average audience of 528,000 viewers per minute, an increase of four percent over the average audience of 508,000 that watched 2013's game on CBSSports.com. Those numbers represent a 52 percent increase over the 346,000 that caught 2012's competition on NBCSports.com. Fox also earned a Super Bowl record for online audience engagement, with users spending an average of 47.8 minutes watching the stream, compared to 38.1 minutes in 2013, and 37.4 minutes in 2012.
Need to Reach Massive Audiences? Prepare to Build a Machine.
If you’ve read many of my missives, you know one thing I say about streaming experiences is that the simulcast of their television origins must be ‘better than broadcast’. From Super Bowls to Summer & Winter Olympics, the organizations I’ve helped to design, deploy, and operate streaming workflows have done so with the vision that those streams are a brand extension that represent them just as their broadcast channel does in the traditional realm. Today, the line between the products has blurred or even vanished. These large events represent periodic status checks, where the ability to deliver massive audience and help monetize those streams is the minimum bar. For the Olympics, World Cup, and Super Bowl, system redundancy, geographic independence, multiple pathways, partners, and workflows are critical. Previous events in these categories have flourished and reached massive audiences. Make no mistake, they will continue to do so. There is no ‘missing’ technology nor component needed to successfully execute on these events. That said, this year’s game offered up some negative experiences that some will point at and remark that the industry ‘isn’t ready to support this.’ Don’t believe the hype.
For example, Hulu crashed near the end of game. Sony’s PS Vue service also reported downtime in some markets. What can we learn? As the paragraph above argues, planning, preparation and diligence will help you if you’ll commit to investing the time, effort and money needed to carry off live events large and small. Check out the webinar I did with Rob Hedrick from the NHRA on live event best practices. And this documentation should help serve anyone who uses our platform to deliver live events.
For those of us who didn’t have teams to passionately cheer for in the Super Bowl, August isn’t too far around the corner. For those of you who have live events, channels or other video requirements to meet - we’re here every day to help you.