“Super Bowl is here by golly, disapproval would be folly…” (with apologies to Tom Lehrer)

In 2012 NBC provided access to Super Bowl XLVI to customers via digital streams from its Website and to tablet owners via its NBC Sports Live Extra app. In the intervening years the NFL’s broadcast partners have increased the number of streaming options, including to Verizon Wireless customers who subscribe to its NFL Mobile App (a $5 fee).

For Super Bowl 50 (the NFL abandoned Roman numerals for the event’s semicentennial, apparently not caring for the look of “Super Bowl L”) the league and its broadcast partner, CBS, have expanded the streaming options via the CBS Sports app to an even greater number of devices: Xbox One, AppleTV, Chromecast, iPad, Windows 10 and Android tablets, with Amazon Fire TV a likely last-minute addition according to Marc DeBevoise, EVP & GM of CBS Digital Media. Access via smartphone will remain limited to Verizon’s NFL Mobile subscribers by virtue of the carrier’s exclusive with the league.

This year’s coverage brings another first: consumers streaming the coverage will also see all the national advertising. In selling its ad slots, CBS required buyers to offer their ads in the digital stream as well as in the broadcast.

It’s logical that broadcasters who pony up for the rights to TV’s flagship event would expand distribution using digital channels to reach the waxing number of US households who have cut or shaved the cable cord, especially given the overlap between those households and the sought-after millennial demographic. But should marketers care? After all, the increase in audience size is incremental: while CBS touted triple digit growth in viewers and minutes for this year’s AFC Championship game versus last year’s, actual streaming viewership was a paltry 1.2 million with an average viewing time of 69 minutes each.

Wait—I hear you say—the championship games are sports, but the Super Bowl is an event, and lots of people who don’t care about the game will watch the ads. True, but with brands themselves pursuing a “more is better” approach by making their ads accessible in a variety of venues, such as YouTube, this ad-craving but game-apathetic audience is more likely to forgo the boring game and go straight to the ads at one of these other sites.

Hence brand marketers—those who pay up to $5 million for 30 seconds of exposure—should look at their small additional investment in digital distribution and claim two victories. Namely, they’ve found a cost-effective way to reach an incrementally larger audience, which audience is subject to more detailed and accurate measurement. Well done, you. (For much deeper insight into brand advertising and the Super Bowl, please see my colleague’s Martin Kihn’s insights.)

Digital marketers, however, need invoke a different calculus. The connected devices devouring these streams:

  • Provide high-precision measurement of consumption;
  • Are enabled by applications that possess detailed personal information about the preferences and behaviors of their owners; and
  • Offer the potential for true engagement and interaction—far beyond “tweet this hashtag” and the other calls to action in today’s broadcast stream.

Digital marketers have already begun to exploit these capabilities in the pre- and post-event programs that tease and extend their big game investment—is it too much to hope for such innovation in Super Bowl LI…LII…LIII…LIV…? We hope not.

So irrespective of whether you say “Go Broncos” or “Go Panthers”, we say “Go digital”.

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