Super Bowl

NBC Says It Will be a 'Huge Disappointment' if Super Bowl Doesn't Break Ratings Records

Peacock hopes to top last year's 112 million viewers

Advertisers are paying $4.5 million for 30-second Super Bowl XLIX spots. Photo: Getty Images

What is NBC shooting for when it comes to this year's big game? Oh, just 115 million people.

It's expected that each Super Bowl will break the previous year's record to become the most-watched event in television history. But when a Super Bowl telecast fails to do so, it's often seen as a letdown, as was the case with CBS's telecast in 2013, which drew "only" 108.4 million viewers versus 111.3 million the year before. That puts NBC in the hot seat as it prepares to air Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, and attempts to top last year's record of 112.2 million viewers.

"There would be huge disappointment if we weren't the most watched show in the history of television after Super Bowl Sunday," Fred Gaudelli, the coordinating producer for Super Bowl XLIX and Sunday Night Football, admitted to Adweek. "I don't know that I'd say I feel the pressure of it, but that's definitely my expectation, that after the game, that it will be the most watched show in the history of television. So it would be a huge disappointment if it wasn't."

Gaudelli and play-by-play announcer Al Michaels, who will be calling his ninth Super Bowl game, spoke with Television Critics Association's winter press tour members about the NBC's preparations for the big game.

As of last week, 95 percent of the Super Bowl ads have been sold, at up to $4.5 million per spot. But even though a large portion of the audience will be tuning in for those ads and not for the game itself, "I don't think you're competing with the advertising. I think the advertising really helps keep people glued to the television set," said Gaudelli. "People aren't leaving during a commercial, or changing during a commercial, so really the entire focus is on you. So I would view that as a benefit."

Gaudelli, who hopes to draw an audience of "hopefully between 115 million and 120 million," said the "vast majority" of such viewers will not be hardcore footballs fans.

"So that's really at the forefront of our minds on how we produce the game. We want to have things that are going to be relevant to all parts of the audience," he said. "You're not going to speak down to the football fans, because they've been with us all year long, but you might want to dive into stories a little bit more and bring out some of the personalities. And we try to do that in a lot of different ways and in a lot of different areas. But to me, the biggest thing about Super Bowl Sunday is you have people watching football for maybe the only time this year."

The football season got off to a rocky start with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson abuse controversies, hinted Michaels. "It's been a year that the NFL in many regards would love to forget," he said. Though the ratings and attendance figures are soaring, indicating that the Super Bowl ratings are not likely to be impacted by the backlash. The broadcaster added, "I think the fans can compartmentalize a lot of this."

Michaels recalled that 48 years ago to the day (Jan. 15), he was in attendance for Super Bowl I, where the Kansas City Chiefs played the Green Bay Packers at the L.A. Coliseum — in front of 35,000 empty seats. Back then, "nobody had any idea that this would evolve into what it's become," said Michaels of Super Bowl Sunday. Now, "it's an undeclared national holiday. What else is somebody going to do on that particular day?"

While the game's matchup won't be determined until this weekend—either the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks will face off against the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots—"it really doesn't matter" which two teams make it, said Michaels. "Any of these combinations are fantastic."

NBC will devote its entire day of programming to Super Bowl-related coverage, kicking off with special broadcasts of Today and Meet the Press originating from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., where the game will be played. At noon, the network will kick off a six-hour pregame show, before Michaels and Cris Collinsworth take over at 6. After the game, NBC will air a special episode of The Blacklist before returning to Glendale for a post-Super Bowl edition of The Tonight Show featuring the game's big stars.

During the game, NBC will employ an additional 4K cameras and add more cameras to the sidelines and goal line. "It's really just a little bit more to hopefully provide that definitive look at a crucial play in the game," said Gaudelli.

NBC also previewed a Super Bowl promo, narrated by Ice-T, it will be airing on the network. "From the beginning, NBC was there," proclaims the promo, which features the key moments from NBC's (and Michaels') Super Bowl telecasts and highlights the play-by-play legend returning to call for his ninth Super Bowl. 

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