Super Bowl LIII’s Linear Audience Falls Below 100 Million for First Time Since 2009

CBS says the game averaged 100.7 million across all platforms

The Patriots' Super Bowl win was watched by the smallest linear audience since at least 2008. Getty Images
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This season’s NFL ratings rebound had seemed to indicate that the Super Bowl audience would also bounceback this year. But Super Bowl LIII’s subdued defensive battle, in which the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13–3, wasn’t enough to keep audiences engaged.

Instead, the game’s linear audience fell below 100 million for the first time since 2009. CBS said the game averaged 100.7 million across all platforms, including the broadcast network, CBS Interactive, NFL digital properties, Verizon Media mobile properties and ESPN Deportes TV and digital properties.

UPDATE: According to Nielsen, the game had a linear audience of 98.2 million. That makes this the lowest-rated Super Bowl on linear since 2008’s game, which was viewed by 97.5 million.

SECOND UPDATE: On Friday, CBS said that Super Bowl LIII was also watched by 12 million out-of-home viewers, bringing the game’s total audience to 112.7 million.

Last year, a linear audience of 103.4 million tuned in to Super Bowl LII on NBC, making it the lowest rated Big Game telecast since 2009 and representing a 7 percent decline from Fox’s average a year earlier. But using NBC’s Total Audience Delivery metric, which rolls up the total viewer numbers from a telecast’s linear, digital and out-of-home viewing, the game averaged 118.2 million viewers across all platforms.

While the linear audience fell at least 5 percent from 2018’s game, the streaming average—2.6 million—increased 31 percent year-over-year.

The Super Bowl linear record remains NBC’s 2015 telecast, which was watched by an average of 114.4 million total viewers.

After the game ended, The World’s Best averaged 22.2 million viewers and a 7.0 demo rating on CBS. The network had selected that series for the coveted slot after considering almost its entire lineup. It was the network’s most-watched post-Super Bowl series since 2010 when Undercover Boss debuted to 38.7 million viewers.

However, that number represented a 16 percent drop from last year’s post-Super Bowl telecast of This Is Us. The NBC drama’s episode averaged 27.0 million viewers, making it the most-viewed post-Super Bowl telecast in six years since NBC aired The Voice in 2012.

The Super Bowl ratings decline was counter to the across-the-board NFL ratings rebound this season. Audiences increased 5 percent in total viewers during the regular season. That momentum had continued into the playoffs, as the AFC Championship clash between the Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs averaged 53.9 million viewers two weeks ago on CBS, making it the most-watched AFC Championship game in 42 years. Meanwhile, Fox’s telecast of the NFC Championship between the Rams and New Orleans Saints averaged 44.1 million viewers, up 13 percent from the previous year.

Last month, acting CBS CEO Joe Ianniello and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus declined to comment on their ratings speculations for the game, though Ianniello noted at the time that “well over 100 million people tune in” to the Super Bowl. “It will be the most-watched game of the year. You can take that to the bank,” Ianniello said, setting the bar as low as possible.

Given that Super Bowl ads do not have ratings guarantees, the declines won’t impact CBS’ bottom line.

Hours before kickoff, CBS confirmed that it had sold out of this year’s Super Bowl ad inventory. The network secured between $5.1 million and $5.3 million per 30-second spot for its Super Bowl ads, according to sources close to negotiations.

Kantar Media estimated that CBS yielded $382 million in Super Bowl in-game ad revenue, which trailed the last two Super Bowls. There was a total of 49 minutes and 45 seconds of ad and promo time, the third largest in Super Bowl history. Of that number, 37 minutes and 25 seconds of national ad time went to paying sponsors, with an additional 12 minutes and 40 seconds dedicated to promos and PSAs from CBS and the NFL.

CBS would not have been able to share its Super Bowl ratings had it not reached a new measurement agreement with Nielsen last month, following a week-and-a-half standoff over a new deal during which CBS had no access to current or historical data from the measurement company.

Now, CBS passes the Super Bowl baton to Fox, which will air Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.

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@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.