Super Bowl XLVI marked yet another media milestone. True, it had 111.3 Million viewers, making it the largest audience for any Super Bowl so far. But that’s not it. And, true, the commercials topped the $3.5 Million mark, making them the most expensive spots so far. But that’s not it either. No, the milestone that media scholars will be discussing fifty years from now is that this was the first game streamed legal and live online for free. Both NBCSports.com and the NFL.com provided viewers the option of huddling with their computers instead of sitting in the television stands of their living room while NBC through Verizon also allowed viewers to intercept the action on the mobile sidelines. At this point, it appears that they scored a touchdown, despite a few fumbles along the way. (And, yes, this article is going to be packed with puns and play-on-words.) There was another milestone of sorts, according to my advertising friends. And that is that virtually all of those expensive, specially-produced, got-to-be-memorable advertisements running in the Super Bowl also ran online in full or in part two weeks before the game.
But the reason I pick the live streaming as the milestone event is because of a report, ostensibly on television, by research and marketing firm Accenture which shows that consumers have reached “a state of hypermobility… (with) ubiquitous app-etite.” Cutesy phrases aside, you’re probably saying, “whoop-de-do, no big surprise there.” But buried inside the report are the figures that do make the point startlingly clear, with no cutesy phrases needed. In the past two years, the percentage of consumers watching broadcast or cable TV, or movies and video on a TV, in a typical wee has “plummeted” from 71% in 2009 to 48% in 2011. That’s the first fact that’ll grab your attention. The second fact from the report that’ll grab your attention is that in a typical week 33% of consumers now watch shows, movies or videos on their PC’s. Folks, that means there’s only a 15% difference between those watching on a TV and those watching on a computer. Add to that the fact that another 10% are watching such programs on their smartphones, and the gap becomes even narrower. And, as those cheesy commercials say, “wait, there’s more.”
The Pew Research Center reports that between mid-December and early January the number of people with a tablet computer nearly doubled, from 10% to 19%. Not related to the theme of this article, but as a side note, the number of people with e-readers also doubled during that period. As a side note, another report by research firm TNS titled Orange Advertising Network in Europe says its research shows that tablets are “cannibalizing” BOTH TV and PC usage. Going back to the Accenture report, it shows that the number of people planning to buy a TV this year has dropped. Although it’s only three percent (from 35% in 2010 to 32% in 2011), it may be indicative of a general trend because it is true of regular, HD and 3-D TV’s.
Now, for a little perspective, while the live streaming of the Super Bowl is a milestone, the impact at this point is pretty minimal. NBC issued a news release saying that analyses by online measuring firms Omniture and mDialog shows that 2.1 Million unique visitors watched online, making it “the most watched single-game sports event ever online.” All right, for all you math-impaired readers, 2.1 Million compared to 111.3 Million translates to just under two percent. Now, in fairness, that does not include the National Football League’s own streaming efforts which they dubbed “a tremendous success” even though no exact figures were supplied. (Or, at least none that I could find.) And, also in fairness, it should be noted that the online streaming was, of course, competing against the better quality TV version. So, in essence, it was “second screen viewing” as the analysts put it, and not the primary or “at work” viewing that usually benefits online streaming numbers.
Still, that is not exactly going to have advertisers clamoring at the door. Yet, websites MediaPost and ReelSEO calculated the price of the online adds at $55 per CPM, which is $20 more than the cost of the uber-expensive on-air adds.
For those of you who like specifics, here are a few details on the online effort. According to figures supplied by various sources, including TVbytheNumbers, there were roughly 4.6 Million video streams. The online viewing translated into 78.6 Million minutes, which (here I go again) converts to 1.3 Million hours which, based on a four-hour game, is 300,000 people. Okay, I know, way too much number crunching. Anyway, actually, the average site visit time was 39 minutes. One of the more interesting numbers is that there were 1.8 Million “user generated camera switches.” That’s where you, the viewer, can switch which camera to watch, which was pretty cool.
Decidedly less cool was the actual viewing experience. My colleagues at the Grady College of Journalism had both the NFL Live streaming site and the NBC Live TV show running. The online version was (probably intentionally) three to four minutes behind the Live TV. More problematic, the video locked up several times, and there were audio dropouts at several points – all of which serves as a reminder about the challenging of having big enough pipes to make online streaming work.
Now, for even more perspective on the ‘new media’ version of the Super Bowl, let’s look at the social media, and the word that comes to mind here is the one I stole some time ago from Inspector Gadget – Wowser. As the game ended, Twitter was recording an average of 12,233 posts per second, which Brian Stelter of The New York Times Decoder Blog, says is “the most for any English language event in the six-year history of the social networking service.” It is also three times the pace set at last year’s Super Bowl (4,064 posts per second). Even more dramatic is the amount of search activity generated by this year’s Super Bowl. According to the official Google Blog, Searches during the Super Bowl were 122 times higher than the average the week before.
And, for the benefit of my advertising friends, the point about putting ads on-line BEFORE the actual game really is a milestone as well. According to YouTube, the ads (some of which ran in full, some of which ran as teasers) were viewed 30 Million times before the Game. I think that’s called “getting the bang for your buck.”
One last piece of perspective on all this. In 1967 when the first Super Bowl aired, there were the three big networks and the game actually aired on both CBS and NBC. That only happened one other time, in 2007 when the game aired on those two AND, making its impact felt, the new NFL Network aired the game as well. Another major milestone in the media history of the game. That was also the year that The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show and Ironsides debuted. It was the only game that was not a sell-out despite the fact that there was a television blackout in the Los Angeles market where it originated. All of the broadcast tapes of the original game were destroyed because back then, tape was so expensive that the networks wiped the tapes and re-used them. Some small excerpts exist, along with video shot by the NFL itself, although no-one is quite sure what’s in the NFL archives. And, oh, yes, one last thing Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 – 10. I couldn’t find any information about the ad rates at the time, but tickets were $12 apiece, which several newspapers editorialized was outrageous, and the players on the winning team got $15,000 while the players on the losing team got $7,500. The figures for today’s players are $88,000 and $44,000.