Each year, a ridiculous number of people watch the Super Bowl all around the world. In terms of stats, nearly 30-percent of the country watches the game – and that’s counting children.
This year’s Super Bowl 50 was the third most watched American broadcast of all time, with 111.9 million. And that number doesn’t include the people that watched the game at bars and restaurants, which would push it significantly higher. It is a staggering statistic, and one that is repeated each year with similar results.
Buried in those 2016 numbers, however, were another set of figures: online viewership. Nearly 4 million people streamed the game to mobile devices, desktops, laptops, and all connected devices, making it the most watched streaming Super Bowl yet. Those viewers watched for 402 million minutes, for an average of 101 minutes per person. Every minute the game streamed, there were an average of 1.4 million people online concurrently watching it courtesy of CBS.
Four million people might not seem like much compared to the 111.9 million, but it is a significant and telling shift. To put that in perspective, in 2015 Fox reported that that it had 1.1 million average viewers compared to 1.4 this year. That’s a significant increase, especially given the event-like nature surrounding the game, and the emphasis put on watching the traditional broadcast.
People like to watch the Super Bowl on a big screen, typically with a group of friends, and they don’t skip the commercials. The game is one of the few – maybe the only – broadcast events where the ads can be as interesting as the actual program. The online stream has some ads, but not the same as on the cable broadcast. Plus there were technical issues during the Super Bowl 50 stream that scared some people away. And still, 4 million people went online to watch.
Those numbers also significant given the provider: CBS.
The network has been slow to adapt to the new platforms, withholding many of its programs from services like Hulu and Netflix. It has softened its stance over the last year or so, allowing some of its biggest shows to be streamed, and it is now fully embracing the new tech. The network recently debuted its own online platform, CBS All-Access.
The platform currently features all of CBS’ content, and it will begin creating new content, headlined by a new live-action Star Trek show. It took a long time, but the network finally understands where the industry is heading.
The Super Bowl streaming numbers are actually a little lower than other sporting events, at least relatively speaking. During the World Cup 2014, the US matches averaged 1.3 million viewers online. During the USA/Germany game, 1.7 million watched the game streaming. In the US, the World Cup attracts a portion of the viewers as the Super Bowl, which makes those numbers all the more remarkable.
When the Olympics took place in London in 2012, as many as one billion people watched worldwide, and the real number is probably much higher. As much as 90-percent of the UK watched some portion of the Olympics, and they were joined by millions – some even say billions – around the world.
Of the people that watched the 2012 Olympics in the U.S., 17-percent watched them online. Unsurprisingly, those numbers skew heavily toward a younger demographic. That means that there is an entire generation that prefers to watch content online, or at least expects to be able to find it streaming. Networks risk their own futures by ignoring this.
It’s unnecessary to point out that more and more content is moving towards an online model, but one of the big holdouts remains sports. There are platforms like ESPN and Fox Sports that offer content online, but they often require a cable TV subscription, which kind of defeats the point.
More and more networks are realizing that people want online, live sports. NBC airs Sunday Night Football online, and CBS had a handful of games on as well. You can find NBA basketball thanks to TNT and March Madness will be available to stream. And that’s not counting the services and apps from the sports’ governing bodies – NBA, NHL, and MLB all have one, and the NFL is moving that direction. The Super Bowl numbers just further confirm that the audience is ready and waiting.
And it’s not just a western trend either. While the Super Bowl was the most watched American broadcast, it isn’t even close to being the most watched program in the world. That honor goes to the annual Chinese Spring Festival. This year’s show, which took place on February 8, was viewed by over 700 million people. Exact numbers are difficult to find and we may never know how many people watched online, but it is significant. More than 3.4 million have watched the four hour replay on YouTube alone.
You can get a taste of it below. It’s a delight. A very weird delight.
More and more people are turning to online platforms for their entertainment needs, and that includes live sports. With the Olympics set to take place in Brazil this summer, expect online viewership to smash records on the way to becoming the norm.