nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

2020 Super Bowl streaming audience up 23% to 7.4 million

football splash

The TV audience for Super Bowl LIV showed a small increase from last year. The streaming audience increased 23%, a much lower gain than last year. Including vMVPD subscribers, the number of streamers was about 7.4 million.

TV audience shows a small increase

The Fox TV coverage of Super Bowl LIV – a come-from-behind victory by the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers – attracted an average audience of 99.9 million TV viewers. Last year’s game – a defensive snooze-fest between the Patriots and Rams – attracted an average audience of 98.2 million. The 2% gain in TV audience over 2019 reversed two years of steep declines. The 2019 audience was 5% smaller than in 2018, and the 2018 audience was 7% lower than in 2017. The most TV viewers for a Super Bowl ever was 114.44 million for the 2015 Seahawks versus Patriots game.

Super Bowl TV audience size 2009-2020

The official streaming audience continues to grow

As has become a tradition among major broadcasters, Fox allowed anyone to watch the game for free online. The stream was available through Fox’s online properties as well as Yahoo Sports, NFL digital properties, and Verizon Media mobile properties.

Fox says the average minute digital audience was 3.4 million viewers. Last year’s game received an average minute streaming audience of 2.1 million. In other words, the digital audience increased by 62%. Last year, digital properties received a 28% increase. NBC, which streamed Super Bowl LII, said the average minute audience for the 2018 game was 2.02 million.

My personal experience streaming the game

My experience with streaming the Super Bowl was very positive throughout. I used a mobile phone streaming Yahoo sports on the T-Mobile 4G network and a laptop browser pointed at Foxsports.com on my home Wi-Fi network. Generally, the picture quality was good, though I did see some buffering in the third quarter on my laptop. I watched part of the half time show on my phone while walking my dog around the neighborhood. Quality was fair, with some jitteriness in the image, though Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s robust performances were still enjoyable.

I measured latency (delay behind the over-the-air Fox TV feed) and stream join times during the game. For the most part, the feed on T-Mobile’s network was 50 seconds behind the TV broadcast, and the browser stream was 20-30 seconds behind. Stream start times varied between 6 and 27 seconds for mobile and 2 seconds or less for the browser.

Super Bowl 2020 stream latency and join time

The real number of streamers

Missing from the Fox count of streaming viewers is those people watching through a vMVPD. Services like YouTubeTV, Sling TV, and Hulu Live all provided the game to their customers through the local Fox TV channel feed or Fox Deportes. vMVPD viewing numbers get lumped in with the 99.9M TV viewers.

nScreenMedia estimates there are around 9.5 million vMVPD subscribers. If the vMVPD audience drew approximately the same rating as television – 41.6 – then 4 million subscribed accounts watched the game last Sunday. Adding in Fox’s 3.4 million streamers, the average minute streaming audience was likely close to 7.4 million. In other words, there was a 23% increase in the streaming audience. The growth in the streaming audience is much lower than last year, reflecting dramatically slower growth in vMVPD subscribers over the previous year.

Super Bowl LIV attracted streaming service advertisers

At Super Bowl LIII, vMVPDs and other streaming services used it to showcase their content and services. This year was no exception. Like last year, YouTube TV sponsored the pre-game show. CBS All Access promoted the upcoming release of the latest in Star Trek franchise, Picard. Disney previewed new shows coming to Disney+ in the fall, including The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and Loki.

Why it matters

The television audience for the Super Bowl staged a small recovery after two years of declines.

The streaming audience increased 23% over 2019, much more slowly than last year.

Slower growth in vMVPD subscribers is a big reason streaming viewers showed no increase.


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