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CBS may have failed to set a new ratings record with its broadcast of Super Bowl 50, but the network's live stream of the Broncos-Panthers melee established a high water mark for alternative distribution of the big game.
The network said its live stream averaged 1.4 million users per minute, shattering the earlier record held by NBC Sports' over-the-top service, Live Extra. The live stream of Super Bowl XLIX averaged 800,000 users per minute, up versus the 528,000 users per minute who streamed Fox's coverage of the year-earlier Broncos-Seahawks game.
Sunday's live stream average represents a steep (+176%) uptick when compared to CBS' efforts of three years ago, when its 49ers-Ravens over-the-top feed averaged 508,000 viewers. Of course, it stands to reason that the adoption rate keeps creeping slowly upward, as CBS has made its stream more accessible than ever. Super Bowl 50 was available via the CBSSports.com website and app, across just about every conceivable device and/or platform: iPad, Android, Microsoft Surface, Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, et cetera, without any requirement to demonstrate a cable or satellite subscription.
For the first time in the five-year history of Super Bowl streaming, the ads on the alternative feed matched those on the traditional TV broadcast. As the live stream ads were bundled in with the standard TV spot buys, they aired accordingly, making the OTT experience a near carbon copy of the regular TV offering. (CBSi did sell separate national stream-only ads to replace the local ads that TV viewers saw.)
The biggest noticeable difference between the two viewing options was that the live stream lagged the CBS broadcast by 15 to 20 seconds.
Oddly enough, while interest in live streaming continues to grow, Sunday's record audience did not top the deliveries for a decidedly less momentous game played earlier in the season. Yahoo's presentation of the October meeting between the Bills and Jaguars in London averaged 1.6 million users per minute here in the States, giving the inaugural free live stream a 15% edge over CBS' Super Bowl 50 stream. (Then again, the Bills-Jaguars game wasn't on TV in the U.S., so anyone with a rooting interest had only Yahoo to turn to.)
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As crisp as Super Bowl 50 was as streamed on a 2015 MacBook Pro and a high-speed Time Warner Cable WiFi connection, plenty of other would-be streamers on Sunday evening took to Twitter to bemoan a host of buffering, latency and clipping issues. Others reported shortly after kickoff that CBSSports.com kept timing out or otherwise refused to load. And even for those for whom it worked like a charm, the average usage data suggests that streaming accounted for no more than 1% of CBS' overall Super Bowl deliveries.
If the feed didn't perhaps meet linear TV's so-called "five nines" reliability standards (in other words, the programming goes off without a hitch 99.999% of the time), live streaming on a grand scale remains a work in progress. After all, it's only been four years since NBC first dipped a toe in the waters of OTT, streaming the second postseason meeting between the Giants and Pats via NBCSports.com and NBC.com. for some 346,000 users per minute.
Speaking of alternatives to CBS' big show, ESPN Deportes' Spanish-language simulcast of Super Bowl 50 averaged 472,000 viewers, improving on NBC Universo's year-ago average of 368,000 by 28%. Fox Deportes still holds the record for the biggest turnout for a Hispanic-targeted simulcast, as its coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII averaged 561,000 viewers.
The ESPN Deportes simulcast marked the biggest non-soccer event in the network's 14-year history. But for a handful of movie trailers ("Captain America: Civil War," "The Jungle Book") and the Snickers 23 Skidoo spot featuring Willem DaFoe and Marilyn Monroe, the vast majority of the ads that ran in the Deportes simulcast were in Spanish.
The estimated cost of a 30-second sliver of airtime in Deportes' presentation of Super Bowl 50 was around $87,000 a pop.