Super Bowl 2012Last weekend was Super Bowl weekend and a great excuse to gather a few ladies who can’t tell a tight end from tight pants and watch the festivities over cocktails. There’s no shortage of options to watch the big game on TV but since we’re a household of cord-cutters and never bothered with a stand-alone antenna for over-the-air signals live broadcasts still pose a moderate challenge. I’ve often bitched and moaned about a lack of options for cord-cutting sports fans* but this year NBC offered an online stream so I decided to check it out.

The set-up:

I had a couple of options but ultimately decided to check out the NBC app on my iPad and Airplay it over to the main HD TV. Interestingly, the NBC app that normally offers up full episodes of many of their shows only had a persistent promo for the Super Bowl. To watch the live stream you had to do so from your browser — I used the main NBC site, as opposed to which apparently had some additional options that didn’t really matter to us (like alternate camera angles, etc). Once I figured out how to stop the iPad from falling asleep** video and audio quality of the stream were excellent. It was time to focus on snacks and drinks.

Things we discovered along the way:

It turns out that the online stream we were watching was different from the main ‘broadcast’ stream in several ways:

  1. Apparently there was a slight delay in the online stream — we couldn’t tell since we weren’t following along on Twitter and we really had no real-time feedback or indication that our stream might be a little behind. All in all, no big deal.
  2. The commercials on the online stream were different than the ones on the broadcast stream. Since Super Bowl commercials are as much of an event as the game itself, I found this strange. However, this also wasn’t an insurmountable problem since the commercials went up on YouTube seconds after they aired. We simply fired up a MacBook and refreshed the YouTube channel after every break in game play.
  3. The online stream will air game analysis instead of the half-time show. Again, not really a big deal here, since we could watch the entire performance a few minutes later on YouTube

The good:

Overall, kudos to NBC for trying something new, especially with such a high-profile event. More than 2 million online streams were consumed, and the audio and video quality was excellent (although I suspect this heavily depends on the quality of your underlying internet connection).

The bad:

The commercials on the online stream were simply awful. There were only about 5 different advertisers (actually 5 different commercials altogether — the ones with Rain Wilson may have had different versions but I stopped paying attention after the 4th or 5th repetition). As users shift to consuming longer content online, and not the customary 2-minute clip, the accompanying ads are quickly becoming a source of annoyance. Faced with 6+ viewing hours (pre-show + game) some kind of sequential*** approach would have been better instead of simply repeating the same clip endlessly. I really don’t understand the decision to not show the broadcast version of the ads on NBC, especially since this was the first online stream and could have informed pricing for subsequent years.

The conclusion:

As a cord cutter, I’m excited that there are more options out there to watch sports and especially live games. ESPN is a significant driver of cable bill increases  and for someone who doesn’t watch a ton of NFL, MLB, or NBA it might not make sense. Since my tastes largely gravitate toward tennis, soccer, and automotive sports I would love to see an ‘alternative’ sports subscription (ideally online) near that $5 per cable user price point (even double or triple that would be worth it, in addition to any ad revenue). I don’t plan to re-institute my cable subscription since Netflix + iTunes + content creator apps (NBC, ABC, PBS, etc) provide more options and control at a lower price point****  – I just wish I had the same option when it comes to other types of content I’m interested in. If we’re to learn something from the music industry, this is clearly the direction we’re moving in so a little visionary thinking and creativity on the monetization side would be welcome.

So, well done NBC – now keep it up with this summer’s Olympics coverage and we’ll have a blast.


*Most recently, the Australian Open Gents’ final that was carried on ESPN. It started at 3:30 am EST and carried on well into the regular morning. I would have happily paid boxing/UFC pay-per-view amounts of money for a high-quality legal stream, but alas no such option was available. 

**Rather than changing the lock settings, I plugged it in and that seemingly solved the problem. Since the pre-game show started in the early afternoon (2pm) and kickoff was set for 6:30pm the little critter needed the juice anyway. 

***This ad didn’t air during the Super Bowl, but here’s what I’m thinking: theres that Chevy ad with the couple racing around town in their car to catch a glimpse of an airplane dragging a ‘will you marry me?’ sign. They need more than one attempt as tall buildings get in the way: with 5-6 different clips Chevy could showcase different aspects of the vehicle (MPG, navigation, handling, etc) and it will definitely be more interesting for the viewer. Let’s say you see the first version of the ad 6 times — that’s how you ‘unlock’ the subsequent version of the ad, etc. 

****I get internet from Time Warner for $40 per month. If I had cable on top of that, I’d likely get a bundle of some kind and from what I can see, that would lift the monthly bill to the $120 range. So with my current set-up, that leaves $80 to spend on other stuff, and when you subtract my Netflix subscription ($18 — I still have the DVD-by-mail plan but I’ll likely discontinue it), that still leaves $62 per month (or about 12 iTunes HD movie rentals). I really don’t miss cable.