Learnings from Super Bowl and Winter Olympics for Advertisers

Brian Ericson, Director, Video Investment

February 28, 2022

Live sports continue to be key environments for networks and advertisers to reach mass audiences. However, certain environments seem to be faring better than others with a continuously fragmented video ecosystem. In 2022, NBCU held the reigns to two of the biggest sports events – the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.

This year’s Super Bowl pulled in record-breaking unit costs ($7.1MM as the final reported number for a :30 spot), and the cross-platform viewership seems to justify the year-over-year inflation. Super Bowl LVI was the most watched in the last five years, tallying up nearly 150MM viewers across TV and streaming platforms, according to iSpot. While live linear viewership still dominated, streaming platforms continue to be more than a trend, with 6MM viewers tuning in to the event on streaming platforms.

The convergence of viewership into holistic ratings is becoming ever important, and this year also marked the first non-Nielsen test currency for The Big Game. In addition to Nielsen reporting, NBCU partnered with iSpot to record the event’s ratings across linear (including out-of-home viewership) plus digital channels, including connected TVs, mobile devices, and tablets.

Converse to the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics proved to be continuously challenging to retain viewers; a multi-week event whose local viewership is highly predicated on the U.S. team’s performance, athlete stories and key events aligning with local time. This year’s event drew the lowest audience ever, averaging 11.4MM viewers across all platforms during Primetime (a 42% drop from the 2018 Games).

However, it’s important to keep in mind that distribution points for events have significantly changed since the Pyeongchang Winter Games, including NBCU’s 2020 launch of Peacock. As a learning from last year’s Summer Games, Peacock now offered coverage of all live events on the platform and a comprehensive list of events in the UI, making live Olympics content accessible to both pay TV or Peacock subscribers alike. Because of the varying distribution points, NBCU is considering Total Audience Delivery for events across TV networks and streaming platforms. The inclusion of the events across Peacock, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app proved to be successful, as the company continues to bolster streaming of sports, seeing a 78% jump in minutes streamed compared to the previous Winter Games.

Ultimately, understanding the importance that streaming has played in both the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics, it is becoming increasingly important to consider all the touchpoints viewers now have to access content, including live events, and reinforces the importance of looking at measurement opportunities that include holistic viewership across both linear and digital endpoints.

Live events continue to be premium, marquee events for advertisers attracting mass viewers (and mass dollars for the networks in turn). As a result of rapidly changing consumption habits during the onset of COVID-19, consumers are rapidly adopting “shifted” viewership behaviors outside of Live Linear. This shift in fragmented viewership, coupled with the increasing risks the pandemic places on the health of players, has created an increasingly unpredictable nature of sporting events beyond the typical unpredictability of live game play.

For viewers, these events can be a bright North Star in a relatively cluttered TV environment. For advertisers, there can be risk involved when it comes to playing with big money while looking to attract a mass audience. Given the unpredictability and as some have occasionally come to a standstill or altered format, advertisers need to prepare for the unexpected and 1) preemptively have a plan b in a supply-constrained market (either in terms of flexibility holding inventory and moving dollars accordingly, or if cash is returned then a savvy way to redeploy into the marketplace as needed) and/or 2) negotiate force majeure clauses into their deals (as an example, should the US pull out of the Winter Olympics for pandemic-related reasons, a release on advertiser dollars).