The ultimate “big game” will get its first live video presentation on personal computers, tablets and mobile phones when NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) airs the Super Bowl Feb. 5. But while some brands, including General Motors, have bought into digital packages generally ranging from $300,000 to $600,000, advertisers have so far not shown the same enthusiasm for the live stream as they have the sold-out TV broadcast. One takeaway: big, engaged television audiences don’t necessarily translate to huge digital video viewership for the same content.
“The question that remains to us is: what’s the actual value of the Super Bowl in comparison to other things that are streamed?” said a sports media buyer for a top agency, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he’s involved in negotiations for NBC’s live stream. “What are the usual viewing tendencies for the audience? Streaming is probably something less significant for the Super Bowl than it might be for other sports or other properties.”
NBC has taken in an average of around $3.5 million for a 30-second spot for the traditional television broadcast of the Super Bowl, typically the year’s highest rated TV event. Last year’s game averaged 111 million viewers in the U.S. alone. NBC, which had been streaming its Sunday night regular season and post-season NFL games since 2008, notified a half-dozen of the league’s premiere sponsors before the playoffs that it would stream the Super Bowl for the first time this year, too.
These advertisers – which include Nike, Visa and Anheuser-Busch — were offered the ability to purchase digital packages that include impressions not only in the big game, but in NBC’s Wild Card playoff and Pro Bowl coverage as well. In fact, the majority of the impressions are actually served in post-season football coverage other than the live Super Bowl stream.
With 11 days to go before the big game, there’s still lots of digital inventory left for the Super Bowl, buyers tell paidContent. (NBC wouldn’t comment on the status of its digital sales effort for the Super Bowl, but a source close to the network insisted its sales were “at capacity.”) So with ad time for the traditional Super Bowl telecast in typically short supply, why are media buyers insisting there’s plenty of digital inventory left?
Despite the huge popularity of the game, media buyers don’t believe NBC’s Super Bowl stream will draw a digital audience that much greater than the 200,000 to 300,000 unique viewers that NBC says typically watch its regular season contests online or through mobile devices. Buyers theorize that the typical NFL fan might not interrupt his Sunday activities for, say, an early-January Wild Card matchup between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, and will catch up on the game on a tablet or smart phone while he’s out and about.
However, the Super Bowl is, in the words of one media buyer, “destination viewing in its highest form,” with viewers striving to watch the game with friends and family in front of large high-definition TV screens. The same dynamic applies to CBS’ and Turner Networks’ digital sales of the NCAA’s “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament: Even though the championship game draws the biggest TV ratings, it’s the early-round playoff games that show the highest spikes in internet and mobile usage.
NBC will stream the match-up between the Giants and the New England Patriots on NBCSports.com and NFL.com, offering HD resolution, DVR-style controls, multiple camera angles, in-game highlights, and live statistics and interactive features. This stream will be accessible through PCs and tablet devices; Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), which has an exclusive mobile deal with the NFL, will broadcast NBC’s live stream to its Android-equipped subscribers, just as it does for regular-season Sunday night games.
So how many football fans will watch the live stream of the Super Bowl? Neither NBC or media buyers seem exactly sure – it’s not easy to gauge based on previous NFL live streams, because the Super Bowl tends to attract a much broader viewership. There is a feeling among all parties, however, that rather than cannibalizing the game’s TV audience, the digital broadcast will actually enhance it.
“What we found with March Madness is that it didn’t take away from the broadcast ratings – in fact, it increased them by creating more engaged viewers,” the sports media buyer said.
“We’re still shaking out the monetization of this, but I don’t see it diluting the broadcast in any way,” added Neal Pilson, a former CBS (NYSE: CBS) Sports president who now serves as a sports broadcast consultant.
As for NBC’s asking price for its digital packages, Pilson noted, “That’s a lot to ask for.”