The Super Bowl is annually TV's biggest event. Last year, it drew 111 million viewers, making it the most-watched television program in history.
This year, you don't even need a TV to see it.
On Sunday, for the first time ever, the Super Bowl will be available to stream live. The game will be available live, on NFL.com and NBCsports.com.
However, streaming media and television experts agree the online broadcast is unlikely to siphon many viewers from the TV broadcast. Nor do they feel it will have much of an impact on "cord-cutting," the trend of ditching cable and watching programs online instead.
While Dan Rayburn, the executive vice president of StreamingMedia.com, sees the value in NBC streaming the Super Bowl - "the point is making content more available," he says, adding that this "spreads out the NBC brand" - he thinks the ratings for the online version of the pigskin classic "aren't going to be that big; they're not going to break any records." He references the 250,000 viewers NBC has estimated tune into the streaming version of Sunday Night Football each week - which on TV regularly draws more than 20 million.
Rayburn says if there were "any chance it would have any impact on" the TV ratings, the Super Bowl simply wouldn't be online.
Nor does Rayburn think putting TV's biggest event online will lead to an increase in cord-cutting, noting that, since it is aired on a broadcast network, you don't even need cable to see it in the first place.
In general, Rayburn feels cord-cutting "is just hype at this point." Last year was littered with reports of surveys that stated cord-cutting is a growing trend in this country, but Rayburn isn't convinced.
"Cord-cutting isn't a trend. All those recent surveys are pointless," Rayburn says. "Every piece of data we have in the market says it's not taking place in any large quantity." He also downplays the respondents in the cord-cutting surveys that indicate they are "thinking" of doing so in the future - because when push comes to shove, they don't. People "can bitch and complain all they want" about cable, he says, but "why aren't [they] canceling?"
Rayburn simply feels there are still too many benefits to watching TV via cable as opposed to via the internet - not the least of which is image quality.
"I've got a 55-inch TV; I didn't get it so that I can have people over to watch a movie in poor quality," Rayburn says. "The reason people subscribe to cable is because it's easy and it works," he says.
Jaime Weinman, who writes about the TV industry for the magazine MacLean's, also isn't sure streaming the Super Bowl will lead to much cord-cutting, pointing, as Rayburn does, to the fact that the event is shown on over-the-air television anyway.
However, he says, "if popular cable channels find more ways to get their big events directly to us on a subscription basis, giving us the option to bypass the unpopular channels, that might certainly increase cord-cutting."
Overall, Weinman says he feels the numbers of people cutting the cord "pretty much have to keep growing."
"The cable model is based on paying for a bunch of channels to get the channels you actually want," Weinman says. "It's very difficult to justify that when you can go online and simply see what you want to see."
Like Rayburn, Weinman also doesn't think the Super Bowl being available online will hurt the TV ratings, as the game is "such a communal event for TV viewers, something that people gather together for," whereas watching online "is more of a solitary pursuit."
While the total number of viewers might not be large, Weinman still thinks this is a great time for NBC to experiment. "With live streaming, [networks] need to figure out how to deliver the best viewing experience and how to make as much money as they can off online streaming, and they have to do it before more illegal options become available," he says.
"If networks can somehow get people back into the habit of watching live, even when they're watching online," he adds, "then suddenly the future looks brighter for overall audiences and ad sales. Streaming could be the last hope to lure viewers away from DVRs and illegal downloads."
The advertising end of the streaming Super Bowl is of particular interest to Jonathon Shaevitz, the CEO of the campaign optimization solution provider Maxifier. The commercials hown during the streaming version will be different from those seen on TV - and they'll be cheaper too. (According to The Wall Street Journal, NBC has said as many as eight advertisers are expected to pay between six and seven figures for ad time on the online stream, whereas marketers are paying $3.5 million for a 30-second slot on the TV broadcast.)
Shaevitz says the two different collections of commercials "will herald a change in the way that marketers view TV and online advertising."
"In this instance, they should not be viewed as separate entities, but complementary channels to be viewed holistically," he says. "Advertisers must develop integrated strategies to ensure they support the same aim of reaching the right audience."
Shaevitz notes online advertising brings something to the table its TV counterpart doesn't - "the ability to gauge campaign effectiveness in real-time."
"While TV advertising is rated based on how many people have the TV turned on," Shaevitz says, "online advertising can be much more specific, as it takes into account not only how many people had the potential to see an ad, but also how many interacted with it."
Shaevitz says his company's adMAX product suite can help companies advertising during the game measure the effectiveness of spots in real time. The suite, Shaevitz says, allows users to "see how campaigns are performing as they are being delivered, make changes to optimize for delivery and user interaction, and maximize the value derived from advertising inventory."
Provided the Super Bowl streams again next year, this real-time campaign analysis could lead to big changes in the way commercials are seen. "With the ability to tailor ads based on consumer interests and reactions," Shaevitz says, "I predict that advertisers will be able to change ads in the fourth quarter based on how similar ones did in the second."