Why The Super Bowl Is No Longer A TV Event

If you think the Super Bowl is a TV-only event – you’re living in the past. In 2015, Super Bowl advertising officially went digital.

Gone are the days of must-see TV – when people gathered around the TV set to watch the same show, on the same night, at the same time.

Except the Super Bowl… Until last year, that is, when 51% of Super Bowl ads were seen online and NOT on TV.  

Live sporting events were seen as the last bastion of driving tune-in, and now TV networks are taking new steps to extend their reach outside of the traditional TV format.  Last month, ESPN announced that it will stream live sports over its app and CBS is, for the first time, live streaming the Super Bowl game and ads online.

This shift isn’t necessarily due to the growth in cord-cutters (people who don’t pay for cable subscriptions) or cord-nevers (people who never bought a cable package and instead stream or use OTT services to watch TV content); 83% of households still pay for cable TV.  This is a sign of networks realizing TV is only one of many devices viewers use to connect with their content.

The Super Bowl (and likely many other huge televised events) made the jump from a broadcast advertising behemoth to digital advertising behemoth last year. Let’s go to the tape from 2015:

  • Super Bowl ads received 483.6 million online views and 9.2 million shares (Unruly Analytics);
  • A record 114.4 million viewers tuned in (note, this is only 23.7% of the audience that viewed the ads online);
  • The livestream (without ads) was seen by 1.3 million concurrent users (Adobe Analytics);
  • 49% of people listed TV among any of the devices on which they previously saw the ad;
  • 51% of people only saw the ad on a digital device.  Yes, that is over half the audience.

ESPN and CBS are leading the charge in aligning their content delivery with consumer behavior. Consumers no longer differentiate among devices and watch TV content on screens large and small.  At this point, it’s likely that media buyers are primarily driving the device distinction in budgets.

The IAB has been advocating for a TV+digital media mix for maximum ad effectiveness as far back as 2013, and Luma released a study showing that the last 10% of TV ad spend was essentially useless – achieving a fraction of a percent increase in incremental reach – and would be better put toward digital. This, and the 2015 Big Game data, shows that TV alone won’t get the job done. With the new $5 million price tag for :30 of air time for 2016, advertisers that create a coordinated multi-screen advertising plan will be the MVPs.