Typing Faster

February 9, 2010

Why Was Super Bowl XLIV The Most Watched Television Program Ever?

Filed under: Future of TV, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 9:56 am

Sunday’s Super Bowl shattered viewing records, pulling in 106M eyeballs, surpassing the previous record set by the M*A*S*H* series finale. But why this Super Bowl? Why now?

106M viewers is an incredible feat, and it’s made more impressive by the increasingly fragmented media market that broadcasters have had to deal with in the past few years. So what confluence of events set this Super Bowl apart from ones past?

The Wall Street Journal takes a stab at explaining what set XLIV head and shoulders above the rest:

  • The Weather: “A lot of people were snowed in,” Bushman said, referring to a storm that blanketed parts of the East Coast. Not coincidentally, Washington D.C., which was hit heavy by the storm, was second only to New Orleans among the top markets in game viewership.
  • The Rise of Sports as Entertainment: This has been going on for some time, but perhaps reached an apex with the Colts vs. Saints match-up. “Peyton Manning is one of the most exposed or overexposed football players in the country,” starring in numerous TV commercials, said Bushman, referring to the Colts QB. And the Saints’ Reggie Bush dates reality star Kim Kardashian, making him familiar to US Weekly readers. Meanwhile, 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, who made an appearance at the top of the show, were on “Dancing With the Stars.” Football, Bushman says, has “turned into another reality show.”
  • The Katrina Factor: Even casual viewers were aware of the Saints’ heartwarming story as the team from the city that suffered the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. It no doubt widened their fan base beyond New Orleans and turned their Super Bowl appearance from a sports to a news story. The Colts, too, are a perennial winner with a fanbase beyond Indiana. Indeed, the ratings win seems to dispel the long-held notion that in order for large numbers of people to watch a sports championship, the teams must be from big markets.
  • CBS’ Full-Tilt Promotion: “Put yourself in the position of a network that has this kind of programming,” said Bushman, referring to the rare opportunity in this specialized age to have a show that appeals to a wide swath of America. “They’re trying to leverage this once-a-year broadcast.” And indeed they did. Pre-game coverage of the game began hours before the kickoff. CBS News anchor Katie Couric was dispatched to profile Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Even halftime performers the Who had a network tie-in; the band’s music is used as the soundtrack for three CSI shows, and the band played those songs in its medley.

So some of it you can chalk up to pure luck (the weather / Katrina), some of it you can chalk up to business savvy (the marketing blitz), and the rest you can attribute to the ongoing “reality revolution” that’s afflicting America.

Are there any lessons we can learn as content creators from this? Other than marketing synergy, or the power of a heart warming story (like New Orleans recovering from Katrina), I’m not sure what to take away from it.

Other than maybe the need to start building my evil genius weather manipulation machine…

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