On the heels of the NFL’s most-watched regular-season campaign in six years and a playoff run delirious enough to be classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, the TV turnout for Super Bowl LVI was predictably massive. Taken as a whole, NBC’s linear TV and streaming coverage averaged 112.3 million viewers, making the Rams-Bengals showdown the second most-watched title tilt on record.
While the inclusion of out-of-home impressions to the Nielsen sample has made a hash of simple year-to-year ratings comparisons—the uncounted masses in 2015 likely would have jacked up NBC’s Super Bowl XLIX audience from 114.4 million viewers to north of 120 million—there’s no fudging Sunday night’s results. Per Nielsen, NBC’s linear broadcast averaged 99.2 million viewers, up 4% versus the vanilla deliveries for the year-ago Bucs-Chiefs game on CBS, while streaming on Peacock and other digital platforms and connected devices accounted for another 11.2 million.
Fans who took in the game via the Spanish-language network Telemundo added another 1.9 million viewers to the tally.
Despite serving up nearly 100 million viewers with the flagship broadcast, NBC’s household rating was the lowest for a Super Bowl in 53 years. The Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Bengals averaged a 36.9 rating, down 3% from last year’s 38.2 and the lowest result since Super Bowl III scared up a 36.0 rating. (For the uninitiated, the household rating is an estimate of the percentage of homes tuned in to a given program. Given a universe of 122.4 million U.S. TV homes, NBC’s coverage of Sunday’s game reached some 45.2 million homes.)
The spike in out-of-home impressions accounts for the discrepancy between the viewer totals and the household rating; in other words, the number of fans who watched the action while at a Super Bowl party or in a public venue was up considerably versus the pre-vaccine 2021 game. As enthusiasts began returning to sports bars, this pattern became a feature of the regular season. While overall NFL deliveries were up 10% year-over-year, the league’s household ratings grew by just 5%.
While in-game Super Bowl impressions often look like the EKG of someone who’s being chased by a bear—in less competitive matchups, minute-to-minute deliveries tend to alternately spike and plummet with each second-half score—this year’s broadcast mapped out like a gentle sine wave, peaking toward the end of the first half (104.4 million viewers) and holding up well during the Gen-X hip-hop halftime show (103.4 million). In a rare show of viewer ambivalence, the average deliveries began to ease off during that seven-straight-punts expanse bridging the third and fourth quarters.
For what it’s worth, the deliveries for the halftime show lineup of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and an upside-down 50 Cent didn’t lay a finger on recent acts like Katy Perry (120.7 million viewers, Super Bowl XLIX), Lady Gaga (117.5 million, LI) and Coldplay/Beyoncé (115.5 million, L).
NBC’s results helped underscore the hegemonic might of the NFL, while offering a sneak peek at how the digital transition is coming along. Streaming accounted for 5.3% of NBC’s overall impressions, while viewing on connected devices kicked in 4.6% of the eyeballs. At the same time, the traditional TV audience remained untouchable, crushing the CFP National Championship Game (20.7 million viewers), Game 6 of the World Series (14 million) and Game 6 of the NBA Finals (12.6 million). And those are just the top-tier sports comps; per Nielsen, the average broadcast primetime show is currently averaging 4.03 million viewers.
For NBC, the Super Bowl not only marked a big-money day, with the average unit cost for an in-game ad fetching around $6.2 million for each 30-second increment, but also served as a prime lead-in to the network’s Winter Olympics coverage. Immediately following the game, NBC’s live Beijing feed averaged 24 million viewers, the highest Olympics turnout since the third night of the Pyeongchang Games served up 26 million viewers in 2018.