Despite Blackout, Super Bowl Scores Record Ratings

Niners’ comeback keeps CBS, sponsors in the pink

Despite a 34-minute power outage that left CBS scrambling to impose order in New Orleans, the preliminary ratings suggest that last night’s Super Bowl may be the most-watched in history.

According to Nielsen fast national data, CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII averaged a 48.3 household rating/71 share, up a tick from last year’s record 47.8/71. But those preliminary numbers are freighted with an asterisk, as the ratings service effectively wiped clear the time period roughly coinciding with the blackout (8:45 p.m. EST-9:15 EST, per Nielsen’s clock, although the real-time interval was closer to 8:32 p.m.-9:12 p.m.).

For all that, the inclusion of the blackout ratings would not seem to have an appreciable impact on the broadcast’s overall deliveries. When the relevant half hour is added to the sample, the total average rating is a 48.2—a difference of just one-tenth of a point and a record any way you slice it.

If these directional ratings hold up, it is likely that last night’s broadcast will top NBC’s record turnout for Super Bowl XLVI—111.3 million viewers. It would also mark the fifth straight year of record deliveries for the NFL’s showcase.

*UPDATE*: The final live-plus-same-day ratings indicate that the Super Bowl delivered an average audience of 108.7 million viewers, marking a decline of 2 percent versus last year’s record 111.3 million. The 49ers-Ravens showdown was also the first Super Bowl not to attain year-over-year growth since XXXIX in 2005 (Patriots-Eagles, Fox).

For all that, Super Bowl XLVII now stands as the third most-watched program in television history. (Packers-Steelers in 2011 owned the record for a brief one-year span, averaging 111 million viewers.)

From the period immediately following Beyoncé’s blistering halftime set to the moment darkness descended on half of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the average household rating dipped from a 48.3 to a 46.5, a difference of just 4 percent.

And the numbers may have begun to go south before the booth went silent. Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave Baltimore a seemingly insurmountable lead on the very first play of the third quarter. Moments later, the lights went out.

Following the lengthy delay—a period in which CBS struggled to make sense of what was happening under the dome—the 49ers roared back. First Colin Kaepernick laced a 31-yard TD pass to Michael Crabtree to make it a 28-13 ballgame, a score that was followed in short order by a TD run from Frank Gore and a 34-yard David Akers field goal. Before you could say “John Candy,” the 49ers were back in business, trailing by a 28-23 margin at the start of the fourth quarter.

As one would expect, the Super Bowl broadcast peaked at the very end of the game, notching a 52.9/75 from 10:30-10:45. A final drive by Kaepernick and Co. died on the Ravens’ five-yard line, leading to an intentional safety by Ravens punter Sam Koch and a booming kick that grounded the ball at the 50 as time expired.

CBS aired three commercial pods during the blackout, starting with a standard two-minute break consisting of Walt Disney Studio’s Iron Man 3 teaser, a Century 21 spot, a 30-second Blackberry ad and the new E*Trade Baby creative. The ads were capped by a 10-second promo for one of CBS’ prime-time series.

The second break followed on the heels of the first, rolling just 90 seconds after CBS returned to the half-dark arena. This pod included a :30 for Subway, a 60-second Bud Light spot and a 10-second promo for the NFL.

Six minutes later, CBS aired a 30-second in-house promo. Play resumed at 9:12 p.m.

The first ad pod following the blackout was a reprise of the Subway, Bud Light, NFL break that arrived in the midst of the power outage. In a sense, the three clients enjoyed twice the exposure for the cost of a single buy. Meanwhile, fans were forced to endure another round of Anheuser-Busch’s “Lucky Chair” spot and a second dose of Subway’s awkward “FebruANY” ad.

The average cost of 30 seconds of air time was a record $3.8 million although some spots were sold for more than $4 million a pop.

CBS was roundly pilloried for its handling of the unprecedented power outage, as pundits including Will Leitch and Bob Raissman groused about awkward transitions and a tongue-tied NFL Today cohort. Writing for Sports on Earth, Leitch was merciless, declaring Sunday night’s broadcast “the worst display…I’ve seen in my entire life,” before adding that “CBS probably would have been better off if it had just kept the screen blank for the whole half hour.”

For his part, the New York Daily NewsRaissman scolded CBS for its failure to land an on-air interview with an NFL representative or anyone else who (presumably) could fill in the 100 million+ viewers as to what exactly was going on in the Superdome.

NFL Today anchor James Brown largely was reduced to reassuring viewers that the juice would come back on “within the next 15 minutes,” a proclamation he made every 60 seconds or so.

While it remains uncertain what caused the lights to go out on the nation’s grandest media spectacle, perhaps the funniest speculation came courtesy of KUSA-TV (NBC) newsman Kyle Clark, who speculated that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may have “kicked the Playstation cord out of the wall.” Twitter also provided the requisite jokes about Dark Knight Rises villain Bane, The Sopranos final cut-to-black and J.J. Abrams’ Revolution.