A record 123mn US households watched Sunday’s Super Bowl game, making it one of the biggest broadcasts in the country’s history and underscoring the enduring pull of live sports even as the television landscape craters beneath it.
The number includes viewers across all platforms — including CBS, Nickelodeon, Univision and streaming services such as Paramount+ and NFL+ — who watched the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers. It compares to the 115mn who tuned in to last year’s Super Bowl between the Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sunday’s game in Las Vegas is the second most-watched US television broadcast in history, behind only the Apollo moon landing in 1969, which is estimated to have drawn between 125mn and 150mn US viewers when the country’s population was just over 200mn.
American football remains the most popular programming on US television, at a time when audiences are shifting away from cable and broadcast networks towards streaming. The National Football League accounted for 93 of the top 100 most-watched US television broadcasts last year, according to Nielsen.
Executives say pop star Taylor Swift’s relationship with Chiefs’ player Travis Kelce helped boost ratings, after a season in which she has been credited with drawing many of her young female fans to NFL games. Paramount chief executive Bob Bakish told CNBC that Swift’s presence at the games “has brought incremental value . . . I’m sure she hasn’t hurt ratings”.
The Super Bowl is also an important platform for other industries, from brewers, carmakers and other brands that spent $7mn for each 30 seconds of advertising time, to the music industry where older stars can revive their catalogues through a big performance.
On Sunday Usher, the R&B star whose hits dominated in the 2000s, anchored a half-time show with appearances by collaborators including Alicia Keys, H.E.R. and Ludacris. Beyoncé used a Super Bowl advertisement with the phone company Verizon to promote a new album.
The NFL struck a new deal in 2021 for rights to air its games that was estimated to be worth up to $110bn over an 11-year period, split between several broadcasters. CBS agreed to pay the NFL about $2bn a year, the Financial Times reported at the time.
This year Paramount booked more than $500mn in Super Bowl advertising revenue across its networks and streaming service.
The strong showing comes amid turmoil at the media group, which is set to announce lay-offs this month. Owner Shari Redstone is in talks with billionaire David Ellison to sell the family business, as Paramount struggles to compete with larger media companies including Netflix and Disney.
Apart from the NFL, the wider US television business is in long-term decline. About 5mn US households cut the cord on their pay-TV packages in the first nine months of 2023, according to MoffettNathanson.