NBC will not be broadcasting Super Bowl LVI in 4K Ultra High Definition, instead opting to air the big game in 1080i HD. An NBC Sports spokesperson said the network’s crowded February sports calendar (see: Beijing Olympics) and challenges associated with COVID-19 were factors in the decision. But that reality has not stopped retailers and media outlets from trying to get football fans to buy a new 4K television in time for the Super Sunday. Phillip Swann (editor and publisher, TVAnswerman.com) said companies are “creating the perception [the viewer] needs a 4K TV to see the game in all its glory, when the TV they have is perfectly fine.”
JWS’ Take: When asked why the game would not be in 4K, an NBC Sports spokesperson said the company’s focus right now is on delivering “the best possible presentation, covering every angle of the game and its storylines, while ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved.” But the network has never seemed particularly bullish on 4K technology. Though the company will provide some of its 2022 Winter Olympics coverage in 4K HDR (see: opening and closing ceremonies, all primetime and primetime plus shows)—at least in certain markets—it has never broadcast an NFL game in native 4K.
Despite the technology having gone mainstream around 10 years ago, Fox is the only network to have broadcast a Super Bowl in 4K to date, LIV in 2020. Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how many viewers watched that version of the broadcast. No data was ever released.
The audience for a 4K broadcast of the Super Bowl certainly exists. As Swann noted: “You really can’t buy a TV that isn’t 4K anymore. And that has been the case for a year now, probably two. So, there are scores of millions of people with 4K TVs.”
But a significant gap remains between the number of people with 4K TVs and the number of those who actually know how to view 4K programming. Swann said many of those who believe they watched the 2020 SB in 4K likely did not (because they didn’t realize there was a separate 4K channel reserved for the game and/or how to find it). Remember, unlike the dramatic transition from standard definition to HD, 4K is seen as an incremental improvement.
The run-up to the Super Bowl has worsened the confusion that surrounds 4K. Earlier this month, CBS Essentials wrote on CBSNews.com, “Whether the Patriots, Rams, Titans, Cowboys or Buccaneers go all the way this year, you could be watching the game (and the Super Bowl halftime show) go down on a new smart TV with 4K resolution.” While technically true, and an updated version of the article does disclose the game isn’t being broadcast in 4K, Swann says the message is awfully misleading. CBS News did not respond to an email seeking comment on why the decision to add a disclaimer was made after we began asking questions.
But CBS Essentials was hardly the only outlet with such messaging. PCWorld touted a 55-inch 4K smart TV that “promises [to be] a serious upgrade to your Super Bowl Sunday.” Creative Bloq promoted an 85-inch 4K TV for the fan that want “to watch the Super Bowl in all its explosive detail.” And Digital Trends is hyping a host of 4K TV deals for those planning to “upgrade their home theater setups in preparation for the big game.” For its part, PCWorld does not believe its article is misleading; the company argues it was simply describing the screen size and digital resolution—two questions any TV buyer is bound to ask. And that 55-inch screen with modern features like quantum dots and HDR support will be an upgrade for many people. Digital Trends did not to reply to multiple requests for comment via email.
Swann says retailers and consumer-product focused journalists have been touting the virtues of 4K in the weeks preceding the Super Bowl for at least the last half decade. We found evidence of Best Buy running ads about it back in 2017. The company did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment on the campaign.
But “with nary a challenge from anyone,” Swann says many retailers and media outlets have continued misleading consumers. “To my knowledge, there has never been a legal action regarding [the] suggestion you need a new 4K TV to watch the Super Bowl.”
It is possible some of the outlets cited simply made an innocent mistake in assuming NBC would broadcast the game in 4K. A Future Plc (the U.K.-based parent company of Creative Bloq) communications executive said, “Giving our audiences content and advice they can trust is absolutely key to us so we moved to correct this as soon as it was brought to our attention.”
But Swann cited other, more egregious examples. Entertainment Tonight stated in a recent article that “no matter what stream of the game you’re watching, this 55-inch Samsung QLED lets you watch the game in upscaled 4K resolution, thanks to its machine-based learning AI.” Unfortunately, Swann said, the technology does not work like that. “It is twisted logic in an attempt to get people to buy TVs and get their commissions.” Attempts to reach ET’s communications department for comment, by phone and email, went unanswered.
To be clear, Swann does not have a problem with media companies collecting affiliate fees. In fact, they are a revenue stream for his site. But the TV Answerman says the correct and fair way to operate an affiliate model is to be up front and honest with the audience.
While you will not need a new 4K TV for Super Bowl LVI, if you happen to be in the market for one, now is a good time to buy. Swann says over the next 10 days, televisions will be “among the cheapest, along with Black Friday and the World Series,” that they will be all year.
March and April are also seen as a good time to buy a new TV. Swann explained that because retailers “bring out the new models and discount the previous years’ models, which in most cases are as good as the model that was just introduced,” buyers can get quality TVs cheaply in the spring.