Super Bowl Breaks TV Broadcast Records but Fizzles Online

Another year, another record for the NFL: Super Bowl XLVI was the most viewed television broadcast in U.S. history. Like the New York Giants’ wins over the Patriots this year and in 2008, though, the 2012 Super Bowl broadcast only just eked out its viewership victory. Total U.S. viewership came to 111.3 million, just 300,000 more than record holder Super Bowl XLV, which aired on News Corp.‘s (NASDAQ:NWS) Fox in 2011.

Still, it’s enough for Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and subsidiary NBC to claim bragging rights.

Of course, 111.3 million isn’t the exact number of U.S. viewers. That tally doesn’t include the number of people who watched the Super Bowl online through NBC’s website. Super Bowl XLVI was the first Super Bowl to ever stream online live, although the company didn’t have astronomical expectations for online viewership.

Throughout the 2011-12 season, NBC has broadcast live streams of its “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts, and while each of those matches pulled in about 21.5 million viewers on television, they netted between 200,000 and 300,000 online. Even if the Super Bowl stream captured the same 1.4% of the television viewing audience, that still would have only been 1.6 million additional viewers.

On the other hand, when you’re selling 30 seconds of advertising time for $3.5 million, an 1.6 million viewers would sweeten the pot for clients, which is NBC’s goal here.

No breakout for views, but plenty of online activity

So how many people watched online? NBC isn’t saying. When contacted by InvestorPlace on Monday, NBC declined to comment, and withheld total television viewership numbers until Tuesday.

Despite the mystery around the official online viewership total for the Super Bowl, there’s plenty of evidence that viewers were online during the game. Twitter issued a statement on Sunday night, for example, that on average 10,000 users were posting messages every second during the last three minutes of the game. That number peaked at 12,233 users.

All Things Digital reported on Monday that users across multiple social networks posted around 11.5 million messages during the broadcast. Even if each and every one of those individual social networkers was watching the live stream of the Super Bowl at, though, that would still represent only a fraction of the Super Bowl’s television audience.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the stream was a mixed success as a broadcast. While website TechCrunch said that the stream was solid and the display advertising surrounding the stream window was inoffensive, although the stream wasn’t set up with the classic group viewing experience common to the Super Bowl in mind. It was a stream built to be viewed by a single person in front of a PC, not the gadget-minded consumer whose PC is attached to a projector or HD television set.

Additionally, while the website did, after the broadcast, feature a complete library of the ads that aired during the Super Bowl, the vast majority of those ads were absent from the stream itself. NBC and Comcast may have considered the extra audience online as added value for the broadcast as a whole, although appears that it wasn’t significant added value for the network’s high-paying advertisers.

Murky numbers aside, this wasn’t going to be the year the Super Bowl stream would come into its own anyway. With television manufacturers like Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) shifting their product lines away from 3D technology and toward online connectivity, Super Bowl XLVII will see more viewers with living rooms set up to accommodate a live stream of the game. Technology companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are also pushing connected television. When Smart TVs start selling, that’s when the Super Bowl will see its online viewership help break even bigger viewing records.

As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at @ajohnagnello and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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