Wolk’s Week in Review: The Super Bowl is a ratings smash, New Stealth App leaves NFL top brass steaming

Wolk's Week In Review

1. The Super Bowl Is A Ratings Smash

It began with the emails. 

European friends and colleagues kept telling me to have a “wonderful Super Bowl weekend” as if it were an American holiday on par with Thanksgiving or Labor Day.

Then there was the conspiracy theory. 

Or theories.

It’s hard to keep track of all of them. 

But basically one in five Americans believe that some branch of the United States government has recruited Taylor Swift and/or Travis Kelce in an attempt to boost President Biden’s re-election prospects. Or sell more NFL paraphernalia. Or perhaps both. Like I said, it’s hard to keep track.

Regardless, the amount of noise generated by people espousing these theories and the people citing them in order to debunk them had overwhelmed all media, social and otherwise, in the weeks preceding “Super Bowl Weekend.”

All of which is to say that it was no surprise that this Super Bowl was the most watched live event in television history.

As per iSpot, 126.6 million people watched the game across CBS, Univision, Nickelodeon and Paramount+. (Nielsen is claiming 123.4 million, but either way it’s a huge number.)

Those 126.6 million viewers represent a 10.9% jump from last year’s Super Bowl, which previously held the record for Most Watched Live Event In The United States That Wasn’t The 1969 Moon Landing. (Interestingly, another favorite topic of the Tin Hat Brigade.)

To put that number in perspective, the Commerce Department estimates that there are currently 335,893,238 people living in the US, so around 38% of the country was watching the game.

The fact that you can get more than one-third of Americans to do anything together these days—regardless of motivation—is truly something. 

So thank you Taylor.

And congratulations Paramount.

Why it matters

I would not read too much into the numbers other than that they confirm that the Super Bowl, and the spectacle around it, continues to be a huge one-of-a-kind event and that selling the rights to it will be a cash cow for the NFL for years to come.

It’s a deal that works well for both parties too.

Take Paramount. 

Not only did the media giant have seven full minutes to promote its various series and run a clever couple of ads for Pluto TV, as well, Adweek estimates it grossed an additional $35 million from the overtime quarter alone. (Ad revenue for the first four quarters, where ads sold for between $6MM and 7MM, was estimated to be around $650MM to 700MM.)

But the real question here is what the so-called Swift Effect will be.

Will the results be long-lasting, turning Super Bowl weekend into the Great American Holiday my European friends seem to think it is? (And could the NFL not possibly amplify this effect by pushing the game off by one more week, thus combining it with Presidents Day weekend for a massive secular midwinter holiday blowout?)

Then there’s the international effect.

DAZN was able to strike a deal where audiences outside the US and China could access to the game for just one Euro, or the local equivalent thereof. 

That’s a brilliant move on DAZN’s part, one that helped promote their brand to an audience that was likely far more enchanted by Taylor Swift than Patrick Mahomes. I have yet to see viewership stats for overseas audiences—last year it took a full month for them to be released—but I imagine they well exceeded those of previous years. 

To wit: I was interviewed during the game by Singapore’s CNA network (it was already Monday AM in Singapore) and all my hosts wanted to talk about was Swift and did I ever think she’d do a halftime show. 

So there’s that.

It’s a guess, of course, but I think that the “Swift Effect” is real, that even if Taylor and Travis break up and the Chiefs lose in the first round of the playoffs, there will be more attention on the Super Bowl—especially internationally—than ever before, and it will become more of a global event than it is already.

And that in 3024, historians will struggle to explain how a football game was the genesis for one of the planet’s most popular secular holidays.

The other key takeaway from the game was where people were watching. And it seems that the vast majority were still tuning in on CBS, which, as per iSpot, was the place 121.9 million (96.2%) of those 126.6 million viewers saw the game.

Two quick caveats on that: that 121.9 million number includes many of the 25.9 million who watched the game Out-Of-Home (bars and restaurants) and also includes those who watched CBS via YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, Fubo and other vMVPDs.

Where those viewers belong is a topic of much debate in the industry at present. Some will call them streaming viewers, as their feed is being delivered digitally. Others, TVREV included, call them pay TV subscribers, because a vMVPD is just another delivery mechanism for a traditional pay TV package.

Just something to think about, though the bottom line is that over 100 million people managed to figure out a way to watch the game on CBS, which doesn’t do much for the whole “linear TV is dead” mantra.

Finally, as per Dan Rayburn, who tracks these sorts of things, streaming delivery of the game over Paramount+ was a very positive experience for fans, with none of the glitches that affected Super Bowl streams of yore.

Lag time was still something of an issue though, with Rayburn noting that “I saw latency from 2 seconds to 60 seconds behind the TV broadcast feed.”

Two seconds is not an issue, but if you’re adding gambling into the streaming sports mix, 60 seconds is a hella big problem.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Hallmark, start rolling out a line of Super Bowl Weekend cards. (You may already do this, and if so, ramp up production.)

If you’re the NFL, know that the Super Bowl is an incredibly valuable one-of-a-kind property and treat it as such. Meaning that right now giving it exclusively to a streaming service is seriously going to cut into your audience. That said, don’t be afraid to use it as a bargaining chip. And definitely keep looking to those overseas audiences. (Your Ghana spot during the game would seem to indicate you already know this.)

If you’re a media company, the value of having rights to the game is worth whatever you’re thinking of paying for it. 

I’d also join Paramount in trumpeting how many people watched the game on CBS, a linear broadcast network. That’s a stat a whole lot of people in the industry need to hear and internalize.

2. New Stealth App Leaves NFL Top Brass Steaming

When my son, who is older than Brock Purdy, was little, he was a huge fan of Thomas The Tank Engine. When Thomas would f**k up, as he was wont to do, Sir Topham Hatt, the owner of the railroad, would “speak with him severely.”

Suffice to say that the National Football League is about to speak severely with Fox, WBD and Disney. 

Quite severely, in fact.

As several outlets have reported, they are not at all pleased about the new stealth streaming app the networks announced last week. Said app coming as a complete and total surprise to the NFL and its executives.

We had noted this in the Week In Review last week, but it seems that the sports media world has been making a lot of noise about the dis and whether or not it was intended.

That has caused the NFL to ruminate on the perceived slight rather than letting it slide, hence the renewed spate of articles about how absolutely livid they still are.

Why it matters

As noted above, the NFL had a pretty amazing weekend, to put it mildly, and so its execs are definitely feeling pretty invincible right now. 

They are allegedly particularly cross with ESPN, whom they felt they had a special relationship.

Confounding things even further is the fact that Disney seems dead set on doubling down on streaming ESPN, at a time when the NFL is looking around and realizing that over 100 million people figured out a way to watch a linear broadcast feed on CBS.

Related: Disney to launch flagship ESPN streaming app in 2025

So there’s that.

There’s also the fact that the new app does not include the aforementioned CBS or NBC for that matter. Both of which can provide huge audiences on both linear and streaming and don’t strike deals without telling the NFL.

There’s also Amazon and Apple and maybe even Netflix. All of whom would love to get their hands on more NFL games and who could, conceivably, partner with one of the broadcast networks if the league insisted.

Finally there’s that piece we also pointed out last week, which is that the app doesn’t seem to be solving any actual problem.

Avid sports fans are still keeping their pay TV subscriptions because they still need to watch all the games on CBS and NBC. 

And it’s not as if there’s a big cadre of fans who recklessly ditched their cable subscriptions, only to wake up with a massive hangover and the dawning realization they no longer had access to anything other than Thursday Night Football.

So there’s that too.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Disney, WBD and Fox, make nice with the NFL. Be contrite, help them see what’s in it for them, reassure them this is a complement to linear, not a replacement for it.

If you’re the NFL, make them suffer a little, just to show them who is boss. But then relent. Because as every Roman emperor knew, the more vassal states you have, the easier it is to divide and conquer.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.