As the TV audience for the Super Bowl continues to shrink, the streaming audience continues to grow strongly. Including vMVPD subscribers, the number of streamers increased 50% to reach 6 million.
TV audience declines to new low
The CBS TV coverage of Super Bowl LIII – a defensive, slow, low scoring game between the Patriots and Rams – attracted an average of 98.2 million viewers. Last year’s game – a fast moving, high-scoring crowd-pleaser between the Patriots and Eagles – attracted an average audience of 103.4 million. Though the 2018 and 2019 games delivered completely different entertainment experiences, they had one thing in common. Both drew significantly smaller TV audiences than the year before. The 2019 audience was 5% smaller than 2018, and the 2018 audience was 7% smaller than in 2017. The most TV viewers for a Super Bowl ever was 114.44 million for the 2015 Seahawks versus Patriots game.
The official streaming audience continues to grow
As has become a tradition among major broadcasters, CBS allowed anyone to watch the game for free online. The stream was available through CBS Interactive and CBS All Access, and also from NFL digital properties, and Verizon Media mobile properties.
CBS says the average minute streaming audience was 2.6 million across these digital properties, a 28% increase from last year. NBC, which streamed Super Bowl LII, said the average minute audience for the 2018 game was 2.02 million.
CBS also said 7.5 million unique devices streamed the game, consuming 560 million minutes of coverage.
The streaming coverage was not without some technical problems. Some Roku users had their coverage of the game cutoff toward the end. The problem seemed to affect the CBS Sports App and YouTube TV on Roku. However, most people were able to watch the game without issue.
My experience with streaming the Super Bowl was very positive throughout. I switched between three vMVPD services at various points during the game. I streamed exclusively through my mobile phone using the T-Mobile network. All services worked well with no stalls or outages.[Update 2/3/20: I revised the number of total streamers down 1M due to better telemetry on the number of vMVPD subscribers and a lowered TV rating from 44.6 to 44.1.]
The real number of streamers
Missing from the CBS count of streaming viewers is those people watching through a vMVPD. Services like YouTubeTV, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue all provided the game to their customers either through the local CBS TV channel feed or through the NFL channel.
nScreenMedia estimates there are around 9 million vMVPD subscribers. If the vMVPD audience drew approximately the same rating as television – 41.1 – then 3.4 million subscribed accounts watched the game last Sunday. Adding in the CBS 2.6 million streamers, the average minute streaming audience was likely close to 6 million. Last year, nScreenMedia estimated the streaming audience, including vMVPDs, at around 4 million. The number of Super Bowl streamers, therefore, increased 50% between 2018 and 2019.
Is this a reasonable estimate? The number of Sling TV and DirecTV Now subscribers increased 70% between Q3 2017 and Q3 2018. As well, Hulu Live increased subscribers from virtually zero to 1 million over the same period. It is also likely YouTube TV saw an even bigger increase in subscribers over the period given the advertising blitz the company has employed over the last year. Considering these numbers, a 50% increase in the Super Bowl streaming audience is not unreasonable.
Super Bowl LIII attracted streaming service advertisers
There is another way Super Bowl LIII might be called the streaming Bowl. vMVPDs and other streaming services used it to showcase their content and services. YouTube TV continues to make a huge investment in major sports events. The service sponsored the Super Bowl kickoff show, a position dominated by more traditional sponsors in year’s past. As well, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon advertised news shows available exclusively through their services. Given that Disney and WarnerMedia will have just launched their services by 2020’s Super Bowl LIV, we can expect more of the same next year.
Why it matters
The television audience for the Super Bowl continues to decline, regardless of the game’s quality.
The streaming audience continues to increase, growing 70% from last year.
The growth in vMVPD subscribers is a big reason for the increase in streaming viewers.