Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Just how super was the Super Bowl?

It is, after all, the media event of the year, but I was totally unaware that, despite all the annual hype, the Super Bowl had never been the record holder in TV viewership. Until this year, that is. The final episode of MASH has held that lofty perch for decades, but this year, thanks to a bunch of factors, the Saints and the Colts tackled more viewers than any other TV show in history.

Of course, there were some compelling story lines--what the team means to Katrina-wracked New Orleans, the Mannings and their split loyalties, just a couple of very good football teams who got to the game by playing well--but it is interesting to note some of the reasons Nielsen, the company that measures TV viewership, gave for the big score this year.

  • The proliferation of HD television sets has led to a renewed interest in sports, and especially the NFL, which has had a good ratings year. Makes sense. I'll accept that.

  • The economy. Good, cheap entertainment. OK. I guess that makes sense. Guacamole is still relatively cheap.

  • The weather, and especially the big snowstorm in the northeast. Huh? Well, Nielsen says more people stayed home to watch the game instead of going out into the elements to gather at parties, bars. and sports restaurants, thus allowing them to capture that viewing on their set-top boxes. That is a big admission of a major flaw in how TV audiences are measured. It is the equivalent of Sean Payton admitting his team had no hope of blocking Dwight Freeney.

See, if you watch TV in a sports bar, at a friend's house, in a hotel room, or in the backseat of your mini-van, that viewing is not necessarily captured by the ratings company. If you are a Nielsen family and have a set-top box on all your TVs, but you watched Drew Brees throw those pinpoint passes over at a buddy's house, you did not get counted in those 106 million households. Oh, if you are in one of those many markets where Nielsen uses the diary method, you may have been honest enough to make the proper entry in your diary while gnoshing on nachos, but that did not get counted in the overnight numbers that are being bandied about. In fact, that data won't be available for a while yet.

There are better ways. Arbitron has one. If you were a PPM panel member and watched the game at Smokey Joe's while scarfing up wings and beers, your viewing could have been recorded so long as the sound on the TV was up. But Arbitron lacks the wherewithal to go after the TV ratings business.

Truth is, it's no big deal to CBS, who carried the Super Bowl. 100 million? 106 million? No big deal. But why should it matter to you? When you consider the same antiquated technology makes the difference between a good show surviving to grow or being tossed on the trash heap, the measurement makes a big difference. Or if you are an advertiser deciding how to place your media dollars to grow your business and hire more folks, it is crucial that you get accurate and timely data, or you make mistakes that could be fatal.

Bottom line is billions are being spent--including $5 million per minute on Super Bowl ads--on TV advertising using numbers generated by 1950s technology. Heck, the Super Bowl has been around since 1966! That's XLIV years.

Not so super when we don't know how to keep score, huh?

Don Keith N4KC





Anonymous said...

Don, if we could only figure out how to shunt those advertising billions (with a capital B) to those Americans who truly need and deserve them, now THAT would be a ratings bonanza!

A REAL Super Bowl victory!

Problem is ... our society seems to put more emphasis on sports hero-worship than on spiritual hero-worship.

More emphasis on sports mega- salaries than on solving the problem of poverty and homelessness in America.

More emphasis on violence than benevolence.

Let's try to imagine the ripple effect of applied communications technology on a new kind of Super Bowl commercial.

That super commercial?

Something that answers once and for all that age-old query ...

"Am I my brother's keeper?"

But sadly, that will never happen.


Because we are all about gladiators instead of Good Samaritanship.

Wall Street instead of Main Street.

Me instead of we.

Am I knocking professional sports?

No way!

Healthy competition in all its forms is a good thing.

But it does give one pause to consider all that money, and how much need there is in this country right now.

In a world more bright, we might see leadership in sports, selfless government service, and high-technical prowess rewarded by a totally different means of compensation.

Bonuses for how well we treated each other.

Bonuses for how well we treated our environment.

Bonuses for giving back that which was never truly ours to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Well, while I totally agree with the sentiment, I'm not sure I totally agree with the method. I still believe the best way to help those who need it is to create jobs for them. A beer ad in the Super Bowl creates demand for that beer. That means more people grow the hops, work at the brewery, drive the trucks, stock the shelves, work in the stores.

I take the same approach to the space program...and I applaud the effort to privatize a great part of it. Getting a man to the moon does not mean we take piles of money that could go to poor people and haul it to the moon and bury it. It means we spend it on steel, technology, engineering, and much more, all of which creates jobs that pay people money that they spend on cars and homes and...yes...beer.

Though basically a libertarian, I do believe a legitimate function of government is caring for those who are unable to care for themselves. But I believe our government's effort to end poverty has been nothing short of criminal. It has certainly provided a livelihood for many who would have had a job regardless but it has not helped those who suffer from poverty. On the contrary, it has prolonged their misery and made them even more dependent.


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