Nielsen has revised its audience estimates for Super Bowl LVII, bringing the official count for Fox’s broadcast of the Eagles-Chiefs nail-biter to 115.1 million linear-TV and streaming viewers, making the game the most-watched NFL matchup in history. The previous record was held by NBC, which averaged 114.4 million total viewers with its presentation of the Patriots-Seahawks shocker back in 2015.
Prior to the recount, which was triggered by the discovery of an encoding error and some irregularities in Nielsen’s out-of-home measurements, Kansas City’s 38-35 victory over Philadelphia was said to have drawn 113.1 million viewers. All told, the revised reckoning credits Fox with an additional 2.05 million impressions.
While the lift in overall deliveries won’t have a discernible financial impact on the network or its advertisers—as with fellow rights holders NBC and CBS, Fox doesn’t offer ratings guarantees to its Super Bowl advertisers, which means it’s not beholden to hit any predetermined audience targets—the revised tally gives Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks & Co. bragging rights to what amounts to the most-watched U.S. sporting event of all time. “For us, it’s especially gratifying to be able to put an exclamation mark on the end of what was such a wildly successful year,” Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ head of strategy and analytics, said in a phone interview.
In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Mulvihill predicted that Fox would average 115 million viewers. As it turns out, he was right on the money. But as Mulvihill is quick to point out, the confirmation of his oracular divination takes a back seat to the fact that Fox was able to set a Super Bowl record with a first-year booth. Having replaced Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as Fox’s top NFL broadcast battery at the start of the 2022-23 season, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen absolutely nailed the assignment.
The updated Nielsen data includes a wealth of information relating to the ongoing evolution of the Super Bowl audience. For one thing, the out-of-home audience averaged out to around 20 million viewers, a slightly lower tally than the 21.8 million OOH viewers who watched NBC’s coverage of Super Bowl LVI. Fans in bars, restaurants and other venues (the OOH designation also includes viewing in other people’s homes) accounted for around 17% of Fox’s overall deliveries, whereas 22% of NBC’s year-ago Super Sunday impressions were served up out-of-home.
While the addition of OOH deliveries to Nielsen’s ratings methodology has helped capture a segment of the audience that had been overlooked for generations, the modern process of counting the house tends to obscure what amounts to a steep decline in household ratings. In the 10-year stretch from 2011 to 2020, the average household rating for the Super Bowl worked out to a 45.1; a year ago, NBC hit a 53-year low with a 36.9 rating. Strip out NBC’s OOH deliveries and Super Bowl LVI averaged some 79.3 million in-home viewers. By the same token, if we eliminate Fox’s OOH impressions, the Chiefs-Eagles game served up some 95.1 million in-home viewers—still a considerable number, but nowhere near an all-time record.
Since integrating OOH viewership into the national TV currency in September 2020, Nielsen has gone a long way toward generating a more accurate depiction of the audience that consumes live sports. At the same time, the sea change in how the impressions are counted has invalidated any comparisons with the pre-OOH days. If OOH had been measured in 2015, even a modest 10% lift would have inflated NBC’s Super Bowl XLIX deliveries to some 125.8 million viewers.
In other words, the transformation in Nielsen’s methodology has made a hash of any year-to-year ratings comparisons with sporting events that aired prior to autumn 2020. Apples, hand grenades. But such is to be expected, given how rapidly the definition of “TV” has evolved in even the last 10 years. According to the revised data, this year’s Super Bowl deliveries included 7.03 million streaming impressions—double what Fox averaged just three years ago. Per Nielsen, 94% of those who watched game did so via TV; in 2020, the tube accounted for 97% of Fox’s Super Bowl deliveries.