Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) doesn’t need more viewers for the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XLV was the most-viewed television broadcast in history when it aired on News Corp.‘s (NASDAQ:NWSA) Fox last February, with 111 million people tuning in. That beat Super Bowl XLIV’s record of 106 million viewers on CBS (NYSE:CBS). The game is broadcast in more than 230 countries around the world, and $3.5 million for a 30-second commercial is considered a steal.
However, television — and the way people watch it — is changing and moving online. And while most people still prefer regular TV to streaming, the trend is clear enough that NBC has decided it’s worth it to stream the entire Super Bowl for free online.
As Peter Kafka at All Things Digital said, NBC Sports digital head Rick Cordella’s thinking is that anyone watching the game online likely is using the webcast as a “second screen,” and the extra “viewers” are merely icing on the massive Super Bowl viewership cake.
NBC has plenty of evidence that there are viewers to be had online. The network’s Sunday Night Football broadcast was the most-watched prime-time television show of the fall in 2011, averaging 21.5 million viewers per week. This season, NBC streamed those regular-season Sunday night games and pulled in between 200,000 and 300,000 unique viewers per game.
At only 1.4% of the regular viewership, that streaming audience might seem like a negligible perk. If NBC can pull in just the same rate of online viewership for the Super Bowl, though, that’ll be an additional 1.6 million viewers on top of what will likely be a record-breaking TV broadcast. Not a bad deal.
There’s incentive for the audience to watch both, too. The webcast will include extras like different camera angles, as well as guaranteed value-boosters for ad buyers, like a feature that lets streamers rewatch all Super Bowl commercials after they’ve aired.
Comcast and NBC are making a good call putting the Super Bowl online. But it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a greater opportunity in this two-screen strategy.
Consider this: Nielsen found last May that 70% of tablet owners use their device while watching television, while 68% of smartphone owners use their handsets while watching TV. The potential to craft advertising content that’s meant to be viewed both on television and on the webcast of the Super Bowl simultaneously is immense.
NBC could take cues from Yahoo‘s (NASDAQ:YHOO) nascent IntoNow app for Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad. IntoNow listens to television broadcasts and seamlessly brings up additional content to supplement the broadcast. In the case of ESPN’s Monday Night Football, it brings up player stats and additional commentary. Rather than just a couple of extra perks, NBC could build future Super Bowl webcasts so they become a more valuable part of the broader viewing experience — taking advantage of all those audience members already looking at their handheld devices while watching the game.
NBC’s planned extra features for online are a good start, but this inaugural Super Bowl webcast is little more than a rough draft of what NBC can do in the future.