The 2,105,441 viewers who watched NBC's first live stream broadcast of the Super Bowl discovered that the Internet experience still can't entirely replace the television one. And that's exactly what the network intended.
Before NBC shared the ratings for the online broadcast, which set a record for a sporting event, NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey told The Huffington Post that the live stream was meant to complement the traditional television broadcast, not replace it. Viewers tend to use the best screen in the house, and that's usually the TV, McCloskey said, citing NBC research.
"There's a small number using [the computer] as a television," he said. "That's why we construct it as a two-screen experience."
Viewers watching NBC's live stream of the Super Bowl got to see all the plays that took place during the game. But they missed out on the commercials that accompanied the network's TV broadcast and couldn't watch Madonna's halftime show either. Given the numbers released Tuesday night, the online broadcast is not yet a threat to the televised version. NBC had little motivation to stray from its previous policy of offering alternative content in its live streaming of sporting events.
The strategy reinforces TV's primacy when it comes to mega-events such as the Super Bowl. It also gives advertisers exactly what they paid $3.5 million per 30 seconds for -- the chance to reach a large television audience.
NBC will not air the Super Bowl again until 2015, so McCloskey said he wouldn't speculate on any changes the network might make in the future. Many news outlets reported less-than-satisfied reviews from critics and viewers who watched the Internet version.
Instead of the much-hyped line-up of Super Bowl commercials on TV, online users got a running loop of five advertisers. They could, however, click on the TV commercials after their broadcast. "We know that the television commercials are part of the entertainment experience," the spokesman said. "That's why we have the on-demand component."
Rather than having the opportunity to view Madonna and M.I.A.'s wayward finger, Internet spectators got NBC Sports’ and ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio, who hosted a halftime analysis show.
Asked if NBC was prohibited by law from showing the regular roster of commercials as they aired, McCloskey reiterated that the network designed the streaming as a companion medium. NBC has followed the same online protocol in covering the Olympics, Notre Dame football and Sunday night NFL football, he said. The interactivity, on-demand video and social media connections available online are mostly designed to enhance the broadcast experience, McClowskey said.
The idea of viewers using a computer monitor to watch the game because they don't own a TV or don't want to pay hefty cable bills is yet another matter that networks might have to tackle more aggressively in coming years. The Nielsen ratings indicated that 111.3 million viewers watched the broadcast of the New York Giants beating the New England Patriots. But in the future, the live stream of the Super Bowl could take on far more prominence.
Said McCloskey: "It's possible that one day the online stream will require its own production."