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February 07, 2013

The Live Streamed Super Bowl - Big Success, or Huge Work in Progress?

By Bob Wallace, VP of Content

The game is over and the teams are home, but it may be too soon to get a clear picture of how the first of 47 Super Bowls to be live streamed to mobile devices actually fared. While unique viewers rose from 2.1 million without mobile last year to three million this year, the NFL has lumped together viewing from websites ( and with NFL Mobile from Verizon (News - Alert).

NFL Mobile from Verizon is a $5 monthly service that provides subscribers access to NFL games, including a wireless first from smartphones this past Sunday. Extending live streaming to mobile devices is of paramount importance to all content stakeholders given soaring rights and carriage fees.

And while the live stream from Verizon was the exact same as the TV broadcast (ads, halftime show and all), those who paid $3 million for a 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl likely saw this as a way to expand their brand, or at least as an interesting sweetener.

Pay Up or Payday?

So what did the advertisers actually get beyond broadcast TV airtime? With the proliferation of connected TVs and laptops, it’s no surprise at all that the event drew 900,000 more viewers of the live stream than last year. The critical number here is the size of the wireless audience. Once that’s revealed, if it is, we’ll have a bit clearer picture of the mobile opportunity.

It would be useful to know how many smartphone users stayed connected during the nearly 40-minte partial power outage that halted play in the third quarter and pleased next to nobody late on a Sunday night. Countless people have since told me they shut the game off and/or went to bed somewhere during that delay.

A Short Engagement?

But wait, the NFL reported the average viewer engagement of those viewing the live stream was 38 minutes. Wasn’t that about how long the power outage lasted? The average broadcast of a NFL game is three hours (including halftime, commercials, etc.) Maybe it was the broadcast TV’s ad commercial breaks.

This begs the question of why viewers didn’t stay engaged longer. Was it because the Super Bowl has been and still is a big-screen event? Most Super Bowl viewers watched in on a non-connected TV, a pretty big one either at a residence or sports entertainment venue.

Given viewing choices for this installment of the annual event, held here in the U.S., it’s important to know more about the demographic and “venue” of live stream viewers, including those watching on smartphones.

The NFL has witnessed declining attendance at games for several years, while big-screen TVs have evolved while prices have dropped. The league clearly wants to reach as many viewers as possible, hence the Verizon Wireless (News - Alert) option. Getting beyond 38 minutes (average) per live stream viewer is a, or the, top priority.

Rise of the Tablets

One very important to note is the fact that the game was not streamed to tablets as Verizon did not have the rights to do that. So, we can’t really get a handle on the mobile opportunity for this year’s event at all for that reason too that and the reality that not all smartphones could use the Verizon app.

What we do know is that mobile video, especially of live sports events and other coveted content for starters, is headed skyward. Tablets are a huge part of the mobile video opportunity to everyone in the streaming ecosystem. It’s the business of video that needs to come into clearer focus, quickly.

M is not just for mobile, it’s also for Monetization (Money). Annual data from Cisco Systems (News - Alert) Inc.’s Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Forecast for 2011-2016, specifically cites more streamed content as a major factor: “With the consumer expectations increasingly requiring on-demand or streamed content versus simply downloaded content, mobile cloud traffic will increase, growing 28-fold from 2011 to 2016, a CAGR of 95 percent.”

While much is known about live streaming content, sports events foremost, many large questions need to be answered and issues addressed before others can build a multi-screen video business that won’t break.

Stay tuned.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli
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