There was a measure of luck Fox caught with this year’s Super Bowl.
As detailed in VIP+’s Super Bowl audience preview, the 2023 event was the beneficiary of two top-ranked teams making it to the NFL championship as well as pop megastar Rihanna’s first live appearance in years for the Super Bowl halftime show.
These helped to contribute to the highest total TV and streaming audience for the total viewing era, though as noted in the chart above, prior to 2017 Nielsen did not measure out-of-home viewing (but did not report until 2018), meaning like-for-like comparisons with other years aren't possible. For comparison, VIP+ included all available years with the number of streaming devices viewing in our chart, starting with 2012, the first year that was available.
It’s worth noting that Fox opted to allow consumers to stream the Super Bowl via connected apps without needing to authenticate a Pay TV service, allowing those without Pay TV to still watch (and presumably still be monetized for ads). This novel approach saw the the number of streaming devices reach the greatest figure yet recorded, and is in contrast to last year, when the Super Bowl was available only on NBC TVE-authenticated apps as well as Peacock (which, it should be noted, gets to have one exclusive regular-season game from 2023 to 2028).
Prior Super Bowls have been available on Peacock and Paramount+/CBS All Access, as their corporate owners look to boost subscriber counts as much as possible for the next earnings call. Fox wisely avoided short-termist approaches to content when it sold much of the company to Disney and opted to get into the free, not subscription, streaming business with the purchase of Tubi.
The decision not to simulcast on a streaming service has financial dividends for Fox. CTV ad spots even for big matchups in the regular season on Peacock and ESPN’s TV Everywhere app saw very few ad breaks fully sold, with many "Sunday Night Football" spots completely unsold. While the Super Bowl will likely have a greater success rate than regular-season matchups, limiting CTV inventory to be sold will have made Fox’s job a lot easier.
With CBS and Paramount+ airing next year's Super Bowl, we may see a drop in overall viewership. Of course, there are many variables at play we cannot yet predict that will also impact audience: Who will be performing the halftime show, will the number one seeds make it again, will there be less marketable teams/players in the final, will there be a pandemic?
But one thing that's certain is the next Super Bowl will not be viewer-centric, and given the demonstrable power that TV still has, combined with making the game available to anyone who could stream, that may be a mistake.