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Taylor Swift, 124 million people, and the unstoppable rise of sports streaming

Super Bowl LVIII delivered a record TV audience, highlighting the importance of streaming to sport and vice versa. Here’s how to make sports streaming a success even without Taylor Swift in the crowd.

taylor swift super bowl

Last Sunday, February 11, Super Bowl LVIII delivered the largest TV audience in the USA since the Moon landing in 1969. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, and the dramatic game was watched by an average audience of 123.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched Super Bowl ever.

It peaked even higher than that, with Nielsen recording a massive audience of 202.4 million watching at least part of the game. It is estimated that ‘only’ 125 to 150 million viewers watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon in July 1969.

Host broadcaster CBS says the game was the most streamed ever. 120.25 million watched the CBS telecast, with Paramount+’s percentage of the audience rolled into those figures as it was showing the same feed. The CBS feed was also available on NFL+ mobile, YouTube TV, Hulu+ Live TV, DirecTV Stream, and fuboTV, displaying a new degree of aggregation in the US market. 

Elsewhere, there was also a Spanish language feed on Univision (2.25 million viewers) and an innovative simulcast aimed at kids on Nickelodeon (Super Bowl LVIII Live from Bikini Bottom) featuring SpongeBob SquarePants that gained an audience of 1.2 million.

Survey data from before the broadcast suggested that over a third of the audience planned to stream the game. All in all, there’s no doubt that streaming and the availability of Super Bowl LVIII on a wide range of digital platforms played a significant part in helping it reach such a huge audience. And, in turn, sports is starting to reshape the streaming landscape, and in 2024, we will see more sports on streaming services than ever before.

VO Live Sport Venue link

Maximizing the opportunity of sports streaming

In analyzing TV ratings, The New York Times used what it referred to as approximate ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculations to estimate that Taylor Swift’s attendance at a Sunday Chiefs game this season has boosted the audience by between 9 and 16%.

Of course, not every game can have Taylor Swift in the crowd. So, what can operators do to make sure their investment in sports reaches the widest audiences? We wrote about this in detail last year, but in essence, there are three main planks to a successful sports streaming strategy.

  1. Content security
  2. Manage demand 
  3. User experience

Content security is vital. You can have as little as 15 minutes to take down a live stream, making technologies such as live sports watermarking essential as part of an overall monitoring and remediation service. Keeping on top of changes in demand is crucial, too. The peak viewing demand for Super Bowl LVIII was 164% above the average, and these numbers can spike within seconds. Everything that works together to make a streaming service function, from encoding to distribution to granting DRM licenses, has to scale seamlessly and operate smoothly under every circumstance.

This brings us to the last point: the user experience. The technology you use to deliver sports streaming to your viewers has to provide exemplary QoS and QoE to any size audience watching on any screen. From pristine picture quality on all sizes of devices to additional features such as multi-view camera angles and watch party functionality, viewers expect the highest standards possible for their sports content. 

Latency and buffering are particular trigger issues with audiences. Data from Super Bowl LVIII suggests that there was as much as a 60-second gap between the over-the-air traditional broadcast and some of the streaming services, with the best of them still adding 20 seconds. Consumer dissatisfaction with this state of affairs cannot be underestimated.

Luckily, there are increasing solutions to this. For instance, At VO we worked with Broadpeak to provide Cellcom with a latency as low as three seconds for major live sports events, dramatically improving the QoE for its viewers. This will become an increasingly critical technology for operators as more and more sports content becomes streamed in the future.


The growth in sports streaming

It’s not just the Super Bowl that is leading the growth in sports streaming. In the first few weeks of 2024 alone, there have been several major developments in the market. In the US, Fox, ESPN, and Warner Bros. Discovery have teamed up and plan to launch an aggregated sports streaming service later this year. This will be exceedingly high profile due to their impressive combined sports rights portfolio, which currently spans the NFL, NBA, MLB, Fifa World Cup, Formula One, major cycling events, and a whole lot more.

Meanwhile, at the public broadcaster end of the spectrum, the EBU has launched Eurovision Sport, its first D2C service. The EBU currently manages the media rights for 14 sports on behalf of public service media, including aquatics, athletics, and the America’s Cup. It says it delivers over 43,000 hours of sport a year through agreements with 28 international sports federations. 

Even Netflix has got in on the act. On top of its popular docuseries on sporting events such as Drive to Survive (Formula One), Full Contact (rugby), Break Point (tennis), Full Swing (golf), Unchained (cycling), and more, it has also signed a multi-year deal to bring WWEs flagship weekly program Raw to streaming audiences in the US, Canada, UK, and Latin America, with additional countries and regions to be added over time. Other WWE wrestling shows and specials will also be available outside the US.

Aggregation and investment

WWE represents a big investment in Netflix, but as the moves elsewhere all indicate, live content and sports, in particular, look like being one of the key areas where operators can seek competitive advantage in 2024 and beyond. As the trend towards aggregation of live content accelerates, the hope will be that content costs can come down as exclusivity becomes less relevant. 

This should allow the industry to invest in the infrastructure to make sure its viewers see live content in the best quality and lowest latency possible. This will be where the new differentiators lie. The successful result will give all events, not just the big ones such as Super Bowl LVIII attended by megastars, a boost to their viewing figures. After all, there is only one Taylor Swift, and she’s usually busy.

Noa Gal

Noa Gal is Marketing Content Manager at Viaccess-Orca and specializes in online marketing, digital brand awareness and targeted audience segmentation. Starting her online career as a content writer in 2012, Noa has since written numerous high-profile marketing collaterals across a diverse range of products and channels. Noa was awarded a B.A in History, Communication & Journalism by the Hebrew University, and a Master’s in Public Policy by the Tel Aviv University.