While Sunday’s Super Bowl broke plenty of records (along with the hearts of some Patriots fans), the TV ratings record was not one of them. NBC’s telecast of the game drew an average audience of 103.4 million viewers, more than 10 million short of the all-time record set by Super Bowl XLIX in 2015.
As our chart illustrates, Super Bowl TV viewership has risen sharply since the 1990s. For the past few years, it had been hovering around 110 million before seeing its first more significant decline this year. Super Bowl LII marks the third consecutive year-over-year decline in TV viewership, though interest remains at a high level when looking at the long-term trend.
When Super Bowl LI kicks off on February 5, the NFL championship won’t be the only title that’s on the line. With more than a hundred million viewers glued to the TV in the U.S. alone, marketers and advertisers will compete for the unofficial title “Most Memorable Super Bowl Spot”.
Since 2007, the average rate for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl broadcast has risen from $2.4 million to $4.8 million, making it by far the most expensive time slot U.S. television has to offer – a 30-second spot during the Academy Award ceremony is less than half the price. It’s a price that brands are willing to pay though. Last year, Super Bowl TV ad spend in the U.S. amounted to $445 million when including pre- and post-game programming. According to Kantar Media that is roughly equivalent to the combined ad revenue of the four major broadcast networks in an average week.
In return for their investment, advertisers not only get a huge audience (111.9 million viewers in 2016) but an audience that sticks around: during the 2013 Super Bowl, only 0.7 percent of the audience tuned away during commercial breaks. The average tuneaway rate during regular TV programming is five times as high. Consumers tend to pay special attention to Super Bowl ads, as agencies typically try to honour the prestigious occasion with especially witty and often funny ads.
This chart shows TV ad rates during the TV broadcast of the Super Bowl in the United States from 2007 to 2016.
Over the past decade, the rise of digital video recorders and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu has changed the way people consume TV content. As time-shifting and binge-watching became more and more popular, people stopped waiting a week for another episode of their favorite show and instead watched what they wanted when they wanted to.
However, there is one type of programming that has proven immune to these trends: sports broadcasting. While many die-hard sports fans have tried to record a game while attending a late aunt’s birthday party, most of them will confirm that watching a game time-shifted just isn’t the same. Data published by Nielsen nicely illustrates sports programming’s relative rise in relevance for TV stations: in 2005, sports programs accounted for 14 percent of the Top 100 live TV programs in the United States. By last year, that figure had risen to 93 percent.