February 8, 2012 – 1:02 am
After breaking a new record with 111 million viewers of NBC's broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, the first-ever live stream of the big game in the United States attracted 2,105,441 users, the network said.
And so, the network is claiming that the streaming of the Super Bowl on both NBCSports.com and NFL.com was the "most-watched, single-game sports event ever online," per to data provided by Omniture and mDialog.
To be sure, the numbers are impressive, especially considering the best estimates tended to be somewhere around 1.5 million.
But the numbers also suggest a number of questions. For one thing, who were these 2.1 million viewers and why did they watch web video as opposed to a big HD screen in their home or at bar?
NBC Universal reps did provide some insights about how online viewers streamed, if not who was doing the streaming.
Time well spent: While 78.6 million total minutes were streamed -- an amazing figure, until you realize that of the four-plus hours broadcast of the game and the Madonna half-time show, the average visit was just 39 minutes per visit.
To be sure, 39 minutes is fairly unprecedented for online video -- most users tend to snack on clips that last less than five minutes, though that behavior is evolving thanks to Netflix, Hulu and now, YouTube's recent push towards more professional content across more TV-like "channels."
Snackable clips: In trying to divine who the users were, the idea of quick looks appeared to be what was wanted by a large swath, as 1.8 million clips were viewed "on-demand."
While the 2.1 million uniques that viewed the stream is a mere fraction of the 111.3 million who watched the broadcast, it would be helpful to get a better understanding of who they were and why they watched.
The other day, AdAge's Michael Learmonth asked via Twitter, What's the use case for streaming video when the game is on every TV everywhere?" To which AllThingsD's Peter Kafka responded, "Webcast is 4 replay, xtra angles. btw, lots of bitching re: no realtime ads. who cares? bigger beef: delayed feed."
In a conversation with TVExchanger earlier this evening, Networked Insights CMO Paul Dunay and marketing director Jason Kapler said surmised that the audience was probably made up mostly of college students or recent grads, for whom TV really means Hulu or Netflix on a computer, tablet or smartphone.
Game-changing: At the end of the day, whether it was cord-cutters who didn't need cable to watch the game to begin with, or those who just wanted to see more of the Super Bowl from a different vantage point, Kevin Monaghan, SVP, Business Development & Managing Director Digital Media, NBC Sports Group, summed up the purpose for running a live stream of a broadcast that was in no way threatened by the web. “The record traffic that grew throughout the event, as well as the record high engagement numbers, underscores the complementary aspect of digital as an enhancement [emphasis is ours - TVEx] to our exceptional television coverage."
It has long been noted that live events, and especially sports, is what drives viewership to networks and ensures that traditional TV won't be cannibalized by the likes of YouTube, Netflix or over-the-top services like Boxee or Roku, since cable channels and operators will always erect lucrative deals to lock up content from VOD-minded consumers
But the persistent battles between operators and networks of retrans and carriage fees -- like Time Warner Cable's battle with MSG that led Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson to turn to "piracy" last month to see a "blacked out" Knicks game -- could ultimately turn viewers to look to online alternatives, especially if it means something as "must see" as a playoff or crucial championship match.
So far, the the model for online-only broadcasts of major events isn't there. After all, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and, yes, the NFL all have online presences online and on OTT devices like Boxee. While agreements limit in-market games, at some point, the leagues may find it more worthwhile to exit the traditional system and program directly to viewers.
And when those entities seriously consider digital distribution in a more direct way, that will be the ultimate game-changing event.
By David Kaplan
February 8, 2012 – 1:02 am