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CBS Tackles New Game With Super Bowl 50: Digital Viewers And Live-Streamed Ads

The playing field may look familiar to the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers when they meet February 7 during Super Bowl 50, but the network broadcasting the event will face a new set of circumstances in its quest to deliver the game to millions of people across the nation.

For the first time in the half-century old history of this landmark media event, the Super Bowl, one of TV’s most-watched events, will be available to the widest possible swath of viewers who don’t watch traditional television.

Since NBC broadcast Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, the gridiron classic has been offered to people who wished to stream it on a desktop, laptop or tablet, largely through the presenting network’s own digital properties. In 2016, however, Super Bowl 50 will be seen by people who use connected-TV devices including Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast. Amazon Fire is also likely to carry the event, said Marc DeBevoise, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Digital Media, in an interview. Streaming coverage is also offered to Verizon customers on phones through NFL Mobile. In another first, all the ads that accompany the game will be live-streamed in the digi-casts as well.

The move is seen by some as a bid to keep up with modern audiences. “The NFL is losing that cadre of younger viewers that are vital to broadcasters and advertisers,” said Jim O’Neill, principal analyst at Ooyala, a digital analytics firm. “Where are they going? All the research points to millennials going online, and especially to mobile devices.”

The audience for live sports streamed in new fashion is growing. CBS said its streaming coverage of this past Sunday’s AFC Championship game between the Broncos and the New England Patriots set records, with triple-digit growth in viewers and minutes streamed compared to last year’s AFC Championship game. More than 1.2 million unique viewers consumed more than 89 million total minutes of coverage across laptops, desktops, connected TV devices, tablets, and mobile phones, with viewers watching for more than 69 minutes each on average.

With new-tech viewership on the rise, so too is advertiser interest. This Super Bowl will be the first in which digital extensions are being embraced by all the sponsors, not just a handful. Last year, just 18 of more than 70 Super Bowl advertisers chose to put their commercials online for NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX. In selling this year’s game, CBS required all sponsors to run ads in the digital stream as well as the TV broadcast. “The marketplace just accepted us,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales and marketing at CBS. “It was not a huge issue. People readily accepted buying both platforms at the same time.”

Whether it intends to or not, CBS will introduce many viewers to a new behavior: They don’t need to watch TV in the traditional sense to take a gander at some of what are guaranteed to be the medium’s most memorable commercials in the next 12 months. Watching Super Bowl 50 on Roku or Xbox “will look and feel exactly like it does on TV,” said DeBevoise – except for one distinction. Only national ads will be carried. Advertising purchased to air during the Super Bowl from local stations will be seen only on those outlets, he said.

Some Super Bowl advertisers bought other digital opportunities, CBS executives said, though they declined to elaborate. But the remark suggests viewers of the Super Bowl live-streaming could see other promotions from advertisers other than the re-purposed TV commercials.

CBS has sought anywhere from $4.5 million to more than $5 million for a 30-second ad in the TV broadcast of Super Bowl 50. The costs for digital packages are typically much smaller, and executives declined to offer pricing terms.

The broader digital distribution is sure to be analyzed by the National Football League, which has made no secret in recent months of its interest in new ways of making its games available to consumers. The league has experimented with digital distribution of game clips, and more. A recent pact with Facebook relied on the posting of short video clips on the social-networking site, which were sponsored by Verizon Wireless. Verizon and McDonald’s supported the posting of game highlights on Twitter. Yahoo gained the rights for something even bolder: the first free global live-stream of a regular season match-up between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills, played in London on October 25.

The NFL has indicated it is open to awarding streaming rights to a package of “Thursday Night Football” games currently up for grabs to a digital player. The interest has added a new wrinkle to a set of negotiations currently taking place between the league and media outlets like CBS Corp., NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox.

Now, with CBS making the game and commercials available to viewers in so many different ways, has the network sold out its inventory for the game? “We are working on finishing up,” said Bogusz.

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