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Welcome to the Dawn of a New Age in TV Viewership: Super Bowl LIII

  • - Gayatri Bhalla
  • 3 min read

Super Bowl LIII was characterized by four records: the lowest number of viewers with broadcast TV viewership down, the most Super Bowl Rings for a quarterback, the lowest scoring game of all time, and the most media company competition of all time.

Journalists and sports writers will focus on the first three records, but for those of us who work in media and advertising, it’s the last record that really intrigues me. CBS won the battle to broadcast the big game this year, but Super Bowl rights have always been owned by the major networks, and of course, whomever owns the broadcast rights also owns all the advertising dollars. Ironically, this year a significant portion of those advertising dollars came from media platforms who want to take viewers away from the very network that broadcasts the Super Bowl.

Amazon was the second largest advertiser in Super Bowl LIII (spending $25MM, second to Anheuser Busch at $59MM) and unexpectedly promoted new content for its new series, “Hanna.” Additionally, YouTube sponsored the official Pre-Game Show on CBS, with each and every minute of the half hour show rich in visual and audio branding. In fact, seven streaming services advertised during this year’s game, which is akin to NBC advertising on CBS.

What does this shift signify?  

  • Traditional TV viewership is slowly becoming the networks’ George McFly. It’s a very “Back to the Future” world we’re living in: with streaming TV viewership and subscribers growing ever larger (more than 70% of Internet users use an OTT service) and record revenues (almost $15bn last year) even the major broadcasters can’t ignore the monetary impact of viewer-driven video on their business. In that vein, it makes sense to at least take their advertising money – while streaming services continue to take their viewers.
  • Sports may be the first to defect. The type of viewing event that traditional TV players will continue to control (for at least the near term) are major live events such as the big league championship games, Presidential debates and addresses, awards shows, and the like. But as TV viewership continues its inevitable march away from broadcast (this year’s Super Bowl provides a relevant example as broadcast TV viewership declined by 5%) these tent poles will also move away. My bet is that we’ll see the major sports leagues test the waters first as soon as the first streaming service is willing to come up with the cash. And why not? The leagues stand to gain when many more actors are bidding for their business – the viewer-driven video world is very fragmented, but that also means there is a far more diverse set of actors/bidders. It is only a matter of “when,” not “if,” and Super Bowl LIII is just the beginning.
  • Prepare yourself to navigate a very different TV landscape. How television advertising is bought and sold will be very different from here on out. Brands are demanding more from the traditional TV players, and viewer-driven video vendors, are more than eager and able to deliver – everything from targeted advertising audiences to conversion metrics to in-store attribution reporting. Even if you’re an upstart brand, your budgets allow you to flex enormous muscle to get more out of every dollar spent – and actually be able to track and justify those dollars. While the current mantra from traditional television execs is that TV offers the cheapest reach available, the fact of the matter is that not all reach is created equal; reaching the wrong audience or missing your audience doesn’t move the needle on your business.