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2021 Super Bowl nets lowest rating since 2007 as 96.4m tune into CBS

NFL showpiece sees its TV audience fall 5% YoY as Tampa Bay beat Kansas City.

9 February 2021 Tom Bassam

Getty Images

  • Despite technical issues CBS claims broadcast is most-streamed Super Bowl ever with 5.7m digital viewers per minute
  • Viewers from Boston outnumber those in Tampa Bay as Kansas City tops local ratings charts

The 2021 Super Bowl drew 96.4 million total viewers across all platforms for US broadcaster CBS, the lowest domestic ratings for the National Football League (NFL) showpiece since 2007 and five per cent down on last year’s game.

Super Bowl viewership reached 100 million for the first time in 2010 and has hit that mark every year since with the exception  of 2019 – the previous low mark for a domestic Super Bowl broadcast.

For the 2021 edition, the marquee quarterback matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes was not enough to overcome a largely non-competitive game, which was won 31-9 by the Florida-based franchise.

Whilst generally being down in viewership, Super Bowl LV was the most live-streamed NFL game ever, averaging 5.7 million digital viewers per minute, which is up 65 per cent on the 2020 edition. It was also the first NFL game in history to deliver more than one billion total streaming minutes.

Locally, the most notable ratings came from the Boston market, where Brady formerly plied his trade for the New England Patriots. Viewership in the city was higher than all but one of Brady’s Super Bowls as a Patriot, with a 57.6 rating. That figure was higher than the local rating for his new hometown Tampa Bay, which scored a 52.3.

Both marks were eclipsed by Kansas City, however, which recorded a 59.9 rating on the night.

CBS also had to deal with technical failures across its steaming platforms. The network had sought to use the Super Bowl’s significant viewership to highlight the upcoming rebrand of its CBS All Access platform to Paramount+, but the streaming service’s coverage suffered technical difficulties throughout its Big Kickoff pre-match programme and into the game’s first quarter.

The digital broadcast efforts from ViacomCBS lag behind its biggest rivals in the US. At the end of Q3 2020, it reported just under 18 million paid subscribers to CBS All Access and the Showtime OTT platform. Peacock, the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal streaming service, was launched last July and reached 33 million subscribers by the end of 2020. Disney, which owns ABC, announced that its principle portfolio of streaming products reached 120 million subscribers as of 3rd October. Disney+ was up to 73.7 million US subscribers, Hulu had hit 36.6 million and the ESPN+ sports platform had reached 10.3 million paying customers.

For CBS, the comparison to last year’s Super Bowl on Fox is particularly unfavourable. 2020’s big game drew more than 102 million domestic viewers for the network, with numbers for the Spanish-language Fox Deportes, as well as the NFL and Verizon’s digital properties included in those figures. Fox’s linear channel racked up 99.9 million of that 102 million viewership, with Fox Deportes adding 757,000 viewers.

The 2020 Super Bowl was the tenth most-watched Super Bowl in history, up 1.3 per cent from 2019, with a 69 per cent audience share – equivalent to a 41.6 household rating, reaching an average of 50.2 million homes. Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s 2020 halftime performance averaged 103 million viewers.

The most-watched Super Bowl in history was the 2015 edition on NBC, which averaged 114.4 million total viewers and the top-rated US broadcast of all time.

The NFL’s 2020 regular season viewership was down seven per cent from the previous year, averaging 15.4 million. It was the league’s first drop since 2017 but was viewed as relatively strong in a year which was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and a tumultuous general election.

The 2021 Super Bowl drew 96.4 million total viewers across all platforms for US broadcaster CBS

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