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Super Bowl LIII Streams Draw Average Audience of 2.6M

Jeff Baumgartner

Not many points were scored in the Super Bowl LIII, as the New England Patriots topped the Los Angeles Rams 13-3, but the game did score OK with streamers.

CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), which carried the game on regular TV as well as for free at CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports app (as well as Verizon properties such as Yahoo Sports and AOL), along with a separate stream for the subscription-based CBS All Access OTT service, said Super Bowl LIII drew an average of 2.6 million viewers per minute, a 31% jump from last year's championship game between the Pats and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Some 7.5 million unique devices streamed the big game, up 20% from last year, with 560 million minutes of total live streaming. CBS said the game also turned into a big draw for CBS All Access, as the service enjoyed record single-day signups.

Notably, the streaming audience for Super Bowl LIII was still a drop in the bucket on overall viewing. Nielsen reported that the game had an average TV audience of 98.2 million, with 100.7 million when all platforms were accounted for, including OTT-powered virtual MVPDs. Though streaming of the game was up, the TV audience for Super Bowl LIII was down about 5% from last year's game

As a point of streaming comparison, NBC, which carried last year's Super Bowl, counted an average minute streaming audience of 2.02 million viewers across 6.1 million unique devices.

While the streaming of Super Bowl LIII wasn't hiccup free (Roku ran into some issues toward the end of the game, for example), CBS's OTT feeds held up fairly well.

Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and chairman of the NAB Show's Streaming Summit, said CBS used a multi-content delivery network strategy and kept tabs on traffic in real-time to ensure that the network could deal with any performance issues that popped up immediately. While CBS couldn't know precisely how many viewers would be streaming the game, Rayburn said CBS was able to obtain a pretty solid estimate based on the growth it expected to see from last year's game.

He said CBS had five CDNs ready to go for Super Bowl LIII, and used Cedexis to help CBS load balance in different locations to address the fluctuations in capacity and performance needs.

Rayburn said most of the stream start-times were under two seconds across multiple devices.

But the latency gap -- the delay between what a viewer would see in the traditional live TV feed compared to the OTT-delivered stream -- remains an issue.

Rayburn said latency for the game on the devices and platforms he used ranged from 20 to 40 seconds, but points out that the latencies go beyond a delivery issue. Those latencies are determined (and lengthened) by multiple variables and complexities -- how content is encoded, packaged, secured, and how it is ultimately pushed through the workflow before it even hits the CDNs.

Light Reading is back at NAB 2019 for a special breakfast workshop, Getting to OTT 2.0. This forum tackles the most pressing issues facing video providers as they seek to manage and monetize their new streaming services. See you on April 8 in Las Vegas – all NAB attendees and communications service providers get in free!

"There's no standard video of any kind on the Internet," Rayburn said. "It's great if the CDN has low latency, but it doesn't guarantee that the user's going to get it in one second."

Though the game's TV audience lagged last year's, it was still plenty large enough to shrink down US usage on Netflix, which ran a 30-second ad during Super Bowl LIII highlighting Our Planet, a new nature series set to premiere April 5.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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