The numbers are in, and while the traditional TV viewership for Super Bowl 50 may have failed to set a record this year, the streaming record was destroyed: An average of 1.4 million people streamed the game, a 600,000-person increase over last year, with a total of 3.96 million unique streams fired up.
There are a number of possible reasons for this sharp increase. Maybe more people had access to the game: NBC’s stream last year was available only in browsers, rather than a variety of apps on a plethora of devices — CBS allowed users to stream through the CBS and CBS Sports apps on Apple TVs, Rokus, Amazon Fire TVs, via Chromecast and via CBSSports.com. Maybe it was as simple as more people wanting to stream the game. Maybe it was a combination of the two.
The 101-minute average indicates these people weren’t tourists, they were there to watch the whole game, including the ads, which is great news for CBS.
This was the fifth year the Super Bowl was available to stream, but the process still isn’t quite fully baked. While many people experienced pristine streams (this reporter’s CBSSports.com stream worked perfectly for the full four hours, even with someone else streaming TV in another room), there were a few snafus right around kickoff, and some streamers ended up not being able to see 20 minutes or so of the game.
The @CBSSports browser live stream, Xbox One, and Apple TV apps are all down/unresponsive. I can't get CBS OTA, either. Lame!
— Justin Davis (@ErrorJustin) February 7, 2016
The stream itself generally lagged about 30 seconds behind the broadcast. But that’s the price you pay for relying on the internet for your TV, and it’s why, while the streaming audience was 1.4 million, the odds of the NFL offering the Super Bowl only via stream anytime in the next decade are lower than not finding a racist screed against Cam Newton on Twitter right now.
If we take the number of Super Bowl streamers as an analog for the number of cord-cutters, that’s only about 1 percent of the game’s broadcast audience, and an even smaller percentage of the American public (323 million people).
That doesn’t make them a force to ignore, of course. The New York Times published a story on how to watch the Super Bowl if you don’t have cable (conveniently forgetting, at least for the headline’s sake, that the game was airing on a broadcast network, for which you don’t need cable); Apple has unleashed a marketing campaign to convince everyone in America to buy an Apple TV; mobile providers like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are promising customers that using certain streaming services won’t count against their data cap.
And so CBS made its stream of Super Bowl 50 (which included all the national ads for the first time) available on just about every platform it could: CBSSports.com, the CBS and CBS Sports app on Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, etc. As with all streams, not everyone had a perfect experience.
While irritating to those affected by any technological snafus, though, insiders say there weren’t any hiccups big enough to materially impact the numbers. Reported difficulties also aren’t likely to keep the number of future streamers from rising apace.
The NFL knows this, and plans on awarding streaming rights to its 16 Thursday night games to a company that isn’t a traditional network. Companies like Yahoo, Verizon and AT&T are looking to bid, according to a new Bloomberg report.
It’s hard to place a dollar amount on a new product, but given that Yahoo paid around $20 million for the rights for a single game, and NBC and CBS are splitting a $450 million tab for 10 Thursday games, a price tag north of $300 million doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The victor of the rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games — and the three games NFL teams will play in London — won’t be revealed for another few weeks. While Yahoo is perhaps a bit of a stretch, Verizon Wireless already has mobile streaming rights locked down, and AT&T owns DirecTV, which has the streaming rights to the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package.
Traditional TV went through the same growing pains we’re seeing with live-streaming: Decades of snowy screens and dancing with a coat hanger on one’s head to find a good signal are not exactly the definition of a good user experience. But the medium persisted; technology advanced, and generally turning your TV on is all you have to do to experience a clear, uninterrupted series of moving pictures. There are other factors at play, variables that will never truly vanish: weather, random physical catastrophes, typical network congestion.
However, in five or six years, by the time the broadcasters’ NFL rights are up for renegotiation in 2022 (2021 for ESPN), streaming tech might have genuinely advanced to the point where a good percentage of NFL games are offered online, without a cable subscription. You’ll just have to try turning it off and on again a few times.