Super Bowl hits 7-year low in live TV ratings but streaming soars

Despite the exciting game, the 2018 Super Bowl failed to attract the record-breaking linear TV audience that NBC and its advertising partners, not to mention the NFL, were hoping for. Instead, viewership of the event, considered the biggest sporting event in the US each year, was down 7% over last year’s game, delivering a meager 103 million viewers. Nielsen gave the game a 47.4 overnight rating, the lowest overnight rating for the Super Bowl since 2011.

NBC had to do some digging to present the results with optimism. It noted in a press release that the live audience was a 20% increase over the last Super Bowl in which the Patriots and the Eagles went head to head, back in 2005.
“With an all-time Top 10 audience, the Super Bowl once again proved that it’s the most dominant and consistent property on television,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting & Sports, in a statement. “Super Bowl LII delivered for all of our partners, and provided us with the unique opportunity to give America a look ahead at the Olympic Winter Games, which begin live on NBC this Thursday night.”

NBC was particularly proud that the big game this year outperformed “all previous post-season games by 143%, the largest margin in Super Bowl history.”

Of course, those results only seem so rosy because the weekly games – post season and not – have suffered such consistent audience declines. League ratings were down 10% during the 2017 regular season, which leads up to the Super Bowl finale.

Despite the so-so linear TV results, the streaming numbers saw signs of growth. Audiences streaming the game online averaged 2.02 million viewers, NBC said. That’s aggregated across NBC’s digital properties, including NBC Sports Websites and apps, NFL websites and apps, and Yahoo Sports Websites and apps, through the NFL’s recently renewed deal with Verizon. The live online audience is up about 300,000 streamers over last year, making this the most streamed Super Bowl ever.

According to reports, most of the streaming went on without hiccups, though there were a few outages on Hulu’s live TV service and on Sony’s Playstation Vue. NBC is rumored to have prepared 19 backup feeds for the game in case of streaming issues, but the outages that viewers experienced were all, it seems, platform-specific.

A number of Hulu viewers were left without video for about 45 minutes during the game, according to Hulu, which blamed the outage on a problem related to extending live programming past the scheduled slot. And it should be noted that the broadcast, itself, suffered an outage during the game, but luckily that outage only lasted the length of one commercial break. All told, streamers brought the total cross-platform audience to 106 million, still five million shy of last year’s audience numbers.

The Super Bowl live stream and its 19 back-ups were something of a test run for NBC, which will be streaming 1,800 hours of Winter Olympics this week. And with the bevy of streaming pay TV platforms available this year, the Winter Olympics will undoubtedly best the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in streaming stats.