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Super Bowl Viewership Dips Slightly For Second Straight Year

For the second straight year, nationwide viewership of Super Bowl LI slipped somewhat from the previous year, but the audience was still quite substantial:

Tom Brady? Overtime? An incredible Super Bowl comeback?

All the ingredients were there for a Super Bowl ratings bonanza. But viewership for the New England Patriots’ 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night was down slightly compared with last year’s game between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.

Sunday’s game drew 111.3 million viewers on Fox, a high enough total to tie it for fourth place among the most-viewed programs in TV history but lower than last year’s 111.9 million.

This was the eighth consecutive year that the Super Bowl exceeded 100 million viewers. And the game’s wild ending — especially after what looked like a certain blowout, with the Falcons holding a commanding 25-point lead late into the third quarter — brought in a huge audience. The game peaked between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. with a 52.1 rating and a 74 share, higher than at any point during last year’s game, according to Nielsen.

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance drew 117.5 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched halftime show, behind Katy Perry’s performance two years ago.

Fox said on Monday that when streams from its Fox Sports Go app and its Spanish-language sports channel, Fox Deportes, were added in, the viewership reached 113.7 million viewers, tying it for the second-best multiplatform performance in Super Bowl history.

This was the eighth consecutive year that the Super Bowl exceeded 100 million viewers. And the game’s wild ending — especially after what looked like a certain blowout, with the Falcons holding a commanding 25-point lead late into the third quarter — brought in a huge audience. The game peaked between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. with a 52.1 rating and a 74 share, higher than at any point during last year’s game, according to Nielsen.

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance drew 117.5 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched halftime show, behind Katy Perry’s performance two years ago.

Fox said on Monday that when streams from its Fox Sports Go app and its Spanish-language sports channel, Fox Deportes, were added in, the viewership reached 113.7 million viewers, tying it for the second-best multiplatform performance in Super Bowl history.

Still, for the second consecutive year, the Super Bowl failed to set a ratings record, and the game capped a troubling yearlong trend for the National Football League. Ratings for games in the 2016-17 regular season were down 9 percent from the previous year and were off 6 percent through the first three weeks of the playoffs, according to the research firm MoffettNathanson.

N.F.L. executives argued that the outsize interest in November’s election was responsible for siphoning away viewers, but the ratings, down 12 percent during the election season, were still down 5 percent after it.

Primetime games were hit the hardest. ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” had the biggest loss in viewership, declining 13 percent from the year before. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was down 11 percent, and Thursday night games were down 9 percent. And even the local Sunday afternoon games had viewership fall 7 percent this season, according to MoffettNathanson.

In all honesty, the small dips in viewership that we’ve seen for the past two years aren’t really very statistically significant. The fact still stands that the Super Bowl is the one time every year that large audiences are all tuned into the same program for an expanded period of time. The only other possible exception is during a time when a major ‘Breaking News’ event is taking place, but those are typically times when multiple networks are covering the event and there is often very little time for commercial breaks. If you want to reach 100,000,000 households or more, the Super Bowl broadcast is your one opportunity every year to be guaranteed that you’ll be able to do so. That’s the main reason networks are able to get away with charging high prices for commercial time during the game. This is likely to remain true for a long, long time no matter how much television viewing and media consumption habits are likely to change. Additionally, it’s likely that at least part of the reason for the viewership drop is the fact that the Super Bowl broadcast was available over the Internet for many people, meaning that there was likely some audience out there that wasn’t being completely measured. As time goes on, it’s likely that the methods to determine how many viewers are accessing a video stream will be improved, and the NFL will no doubt find a way to extract revenue for this new and expanding audience.

The news of another Super Bowl viewership drop capped off a season in which, for many weeks, there were repeated reports that ratings for weekly NFL games were slipping compared to previous years. There were various theories why this was the case. Some speculated that years of reports about concussions and the league’s failure to properly support players was turning the public off. Conservatives claimed that the controversy that started the season off when San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem was the reason why many Americans stopped watching the games. There is, however, no evidence that Kaepernick’s actions and those of others had any real impact at all on viewers. The NFL opined that all the media attention on the upcoming Presidential election was impacting viewers’ media choices and impacting ratings for everyone, and there was some support for that argument when ratings returned to what has been a historic norm across the past several seasons. Others have speculated that the fact that NFL games are no longer limited to Sundays is, some extent, diluting overall viewership. In addition to Sunday’s, this season alone there were games every Sunday night, every Monday night, and every Thursday night, and games on Saturday at the end of the season in December. Arguably, this many games over the course of the week has an impact on whether or not people are watching. This is one reason that the NFL is reportedly considering ending the Thursday night game and returning to the time when games were played during the day on Sunday and during prime time on Sunday and Monday evenings. One final explanation, of course, is the fact that streaming of games has become more and more common and this may be taking people away from televisions on game day, especially if streaming means they can watch their favorite teams rather than whatever is being broadcast in their area on a given week.

Whatever the explanation, as I said, 111 million people watching all at once is hard to ignore.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Those who didn’t tune in missed a hell of a fourth quarter.
    I guess that includes the so-called president who left his own party when the Pats were down and looked out. Piss-poor fan…like everything else about him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Jake says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    You have the answer you just need to pose the question.

    Why even post ? We all know your premise hate Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  3. James Pearce says:

    One final explanation, of course, is the fact that streaming of games has become more and more common and this may be taking people away from televisions on game day, especially if streaming means they can watch their favorite teams rather than whatever is being broadcast in their area on a given week.

    I streamed the SB this year, with my ad blocker on.

    It was glorious!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Mr. Bluster says:

    Forget it, Jake. It’s Pudtown.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Jake:

    We all know your premise hate Trump.

    I don’t hate him. Hate is an emotion.
    He is a congenital liar. A bigot. A misogynist. A narcissist. A serial sexual assaulter (by his own admission). A conspiracy theorist. He is incompetent. He is ignorant. He doesn’t understand the Constitution. He lacks any kind of vision. He wants to fundamentally change our form of Government. And, of course, he is a piss-poor fan.
    These are all facts, not emotions.
    You on the other hand seem to love him because you are more than willing to overlook facts in order to effuse over the man-child.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. Jake says:

    Ha ha you’re delusional

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  7. al-Alameda says:

    The problem is, the Super Bowl is a huge commitment of time.

    Look, I’m a fan of all major sports – NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, high level Soccer – but I just can’t set aside the time for the entire Super Bowl “experience” any more.

    Think about it: You get at least 3 hours of pre-kickoff bloviation, then the 1st half of game, then halftime, then the 2nd half of the game, then the post-game ceremonial and endless wrap-up bloviation. Start to finish it’s probably at least an 8 hour coma-extravaganza.

    This year I watched the ‘actual’ game, with the broadcast announcers essentially muted – however I skipped halftime, skipped pre-game, skipped post-game, and yet I probably watched over 4 hours one way or the other?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Jake:
    Present an argument…not just more of your silly emotions.
    Prove to us he’s not a liar. A bigot. A misogynist. Pick any three form my list above.
    Here’s a hint…you cannot.
    The problem with people like you is that you cannot be reasoned with because your opinions don’t come from reason, but from your emotions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. James in Bremerton says:

    The NFL has come to a crossroads. There are a large and growing number of competitive media experiences that leave little time for football. As the Superbowl demonstrates, the best action is in the final 15 minutes. NFL’s tight grip on coverage of games and “premium analysis” does not grow their market, as it’s incompatible with media expectations in the present. They have been unable to expand outside the U.S. because, Soccer. Concussions are not going to stop happening, either.

    The “dip” heralds decline.

    As V/AR experiences mature, people are just going to flat-out live many waking hours inside a growing number of simulations, all destined to be connected together. That’s the Final Frontier for the NFL. Many orgs face the same dilemma. Adapt, or get the yawnz.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Jake says:
  11. bill says:

    last years would have been dismal if it wasn’t known that it would be peyton mannings last game. who else cared about denver/carolina? same for atlanta, not a large market and football history just isn’t there.
    granted, most of the people i watched the game with were yappy women who cared about the commercials and halftime show.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Tyrell says:

    @al-Alameda: There are two or three main reasons that the NFL is losing tv viewers. The games are longer, with seemingly more timeouts. There is overexposure compared to years ago. Some are scheduled with night starts at 8:00. There also seems to be a disenchantment with major league sports in general: huge salaries, owners demanding taxpayer support for newer and fancier stadiums; ticket, parking, and concession prices can cost a family way over a $100. And some of the off field and on field antics of the players themselves turn people off. I went to a nearby small college soccer game last fall. I took in my own chair, drinks, and snacks. Parking was close and free. The ticket was $5. I saw a good game. Afterwards we got to talk to some of the players for a few minutes, but most of them had to get back and study. Now that was a good time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. EddieInCA says:

    The NFL is in the start of a decline that will only worsen over the next 10 years. However, it’s starting from such a high point that it will take a while for the actual demise to become obvious.

    NFL Ratings have been in decline for three seasons. This year’s decline was much bigger than the declines from 2014 and 2015. In other words, the decline is accelerating.

    Given the issues with football – mostly CTE. It’s not a trend that will reverse itself any time soon.

    Too many moms don’t allow their sons to play football any more. That’s another trend that isn’t going to change. My sister has two high school aged boys who wanted to play football. Mom said no. They play soccer, golf, and basketball instead.

    I played college football, and if i had a kid, no effing way he’d play football.

    Football has always been an “American” game. The rest of of the world doesn’t get it, and doesn’t care. Meanwhile, soccer gets bigger and bigger. Ask some random kid anywhere in the world (other than the United States) who Tom Brady or Peyton Manning are and you’ll get a blank stare 80% of the time. But ask them who Ronaldo, Neymar, or Messi are, and they’ll tell you. They don’t even need the two names. Just one will do.

    Go Manchester United!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. James Pearce says:

    @bill:

    who else cared about denver/carolina?

    Um…the people of Denver, Charlotte, the surrounding local communities and about a hundred million other people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Jake:
    Holy shit…you’re dumber than I thought.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. @James in Bremerton:

    They have been unable to expand outside the U.S. because, Soccer.

    They are unable do expand outside the US because Roger Goodell has no idea about how he could do that. From what I see in Brazil(Where the national American Football League was created basically by fans that watched NFL games on TV) that’s pretty clear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Slugger says:

    On a recent flight I sat with a psychologist who works for a video game maker. To sustain interest, the action has to build continually with some surprise shockers that increase tension unpredictably and also some rest periods when the tension gets too high. The rests have to be brief, and when the the action resumes it has to be at the previous level. In other words, the game makers aim for the same arc as a good novel or movie. Professional sports on television has some action for a few minutes which is followed by six, seven ads that completely break up the action. This cycle repeats over and over. Imagine the producers of a game saying that they are going to bump some of the ads because the game has reached a critical point; it ain’t gonna happen. The stupid bowl is a social event with ritual foods and drinks. I was fairly drunk by mid fourth quarter and went for a long walk with a drunker friend. We did see the ending but are not feeling compelled to repeat next year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..The stupid bowl…

    Thanks Sluggo for putting me and all the other fans who enjoyed the game in our place.
    We won’t miss your patronizing attitude next year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @Slugger:
    Pretty infantile understanding of how TV production, or any complex production for that matter, works.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. KM says:

    There’s a whole quasi-religious experience built up around the SuperBowl to the point people try to make the following Monday a holiday. (Yes, I know Heinz was joking. There are people who aren’t) If you aren’t watching the SuperBowl, attending/ holding a party or generally doing something in recognition of the day, you get stared at. It’s getting to the point you don’t really have to *watch* the game per se but you *are* expected to socially acknowledge and join in the festivities. Knowledge of the game, participating teams or rules is irrelevant; have a beer and cheer when everyone else in the room is and you’re in.

    Personally, I prefer PuppyBowl. Cuter players, less stress, everyone is happy regardless of who wins and the same snacks are available. Plus it’s ratings are on the rise year after year. Clearly a winner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Slugger says:

    I would like to defend myself against the characterizations that Bluster and Clavin make, but I can’t because they have actually captured the essence of my soul. However, we supercilious infants represent an important segment of the potential viewing public that is not being reached; thus viewership is stale and dribbling downward. I like athletic contests, but televised football has been chopped and diced in order to get in more and more ads, and the SB is the apotheosis of this process. There is too much of the collateral spectacle to engage my primitive brain. The video game psychologist who shared my flight advises his clients that they need to engage the primitive, yes infantile, parts of our psyche. People are willing to spend hours in films, concerts, and reading. If these experiences were interrupted every seven minutes by eight minutes of being told about cars you should be buying and beer you should be drinking, it would decrease the value of the experience.
    This is my theory for the waning interest in the event. I doubt that I am the only one who watches more for the social occasion, pizza, and chips. The gathering I attended featured seafood prepared by the host. I am going to need some fancy eats to watch next year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Slugger:
    I don’t know where Doug is getting his info but according to this the Super Bowl is pretty damn healthy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Super_Bowl_TV_ratings
    Even Doug typed that it was the fourth most viewed program in history. Who in the world thinks the fourth most watched broadcast in history is a sign of weakness?
    In fact the top 8 most watched broadcasts ever were Super Bowls, and 19 of the top 20.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_watched_television_broadcasts_in_the_United_States
    Like I said…your understanding of the topic is about as sophisticated as a creationists understanding of science.
    There are a lot of reasons not to like football…concussions and player safety are foremost…but that doesn’t make your grasp of the facts correct.
    [Disclaimer…my previous career was in broadcasting, for which I earned 3 EMMYS; I spent one season working for the Dallas Cowboys.]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Tyrell says:

    @EddieInCA: I enjoy watching soccer in person, but the tv games are boring. The field looks like it is a mile long, the scores are usually 1-0 or 2 -1, time remaining is confusing, and the games are too long: boring. They need to increase scoring with shorter fields and a larger goal area.
    Overall I enjoy watching baseball and NASCAR races: more action and excitement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Mr. Bluster says:

    We did see the ending but are not feeling compelled to repeat next year.

    I am going to need some fancy eats to watch next year.

    10+ hours to start spinning on your pivot.
    Another news cycle and you will be right there with Kellyanne and Spicer!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Jeremy says:

    @al-Alameda: Wait, people actually watch that pre-game and post-game BS?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Tyrell says:

    @Mr. Bluster: Coach Belichek said that the Super Bowl time frame has set him back 5 weeks on his work schedule.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. EddieInCA says:

    @Tyrell:

    Dude –

    Spoken like an American. And I mean that with no disrespect.

    I’ve seen 1-0 Football matches that are so much more exciting than 24-21 American Football games.

    In an American Football game, there is actually 11 minutes, total, of real game action. The overwhelming majority of the time is spent standing around huddled, lining up, and resetting to do it again. The actual game time is almost nil.

    In Football, it’s 45 minutes of non-stop action, with a running clock, 15 minute halftime and another 45 mins. Non-stop running. A goal can be scored at anytime by anyone. If you find it boring, you must find Hockey boring too as alot of those games are 1-0 and 2-1.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Mr. Bluster says:

    Thanks for the update Ty but I did watch all that post-game BS and I enjoyed every minute of it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Tyrell says:

    @EddieInCA: Someone else told some of those things a few years ago: maybe it was you. I do enjoy soccer in person, but not on tv. What you said is true about pro football – too many timeouts, huddles, and now the replays requested by coaches. They need to let the clock run more, except for injuries. Hockey – yes, the whistle blows and the players all start holding onto each other. Hockey coaches are more entertaining though. Especially Tortorella.
    NASCAR: I watch the first 20 laps and the last 20 laps.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0