The shift away from linear TV combined with the proliferation of curated second screen experiences have changed both sports consumption and content standards. Second screens are every much as important during live sports events as traditional broadcasts, and the likes of Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook showed this past weekend that they will soon even define them.
Super Bowl 50 served as a great example of where the industry stands and where it is going. Whether it was the ubiquitous livestream across all devices or the many live stories on the big social platforms, fans are no longer glued to just their TVs munching on their wings and debating which half-time ad was the best.
Don’t get me wrong, viewers are still doing that, but nowadays they expect much more. They want to experience the event first hand. They want to know what’s happening in the lead-up, behind the scenes, amid the huddles, in the locker rooms, and share with others their own emotional experiences and opinions.
Second screens are not just a portal to the live event but platforms for participation. Yes, TV is still the proverbial king for the average sports viewer, but the focus and habits are rapidly shifting to mobile, tablets and web. CBS's decision to make SB50 widely available to stream on all devices was proof positive of this behavioral transformation.
The numbers speak for themselves. An average of 1.4 million watched SB50 on nonlinear devices, making it the most-streamed Super Bowl game ever. According to CBS, 3.96 million uniques watched the big game across all devices. Earlier this season, Yahoo had the first exclusive livestream of an NFL game. This one was not available on TV and landed an impressive average of 2.36 million viewers (1.63 million of those were in the US). Free livestreams are going to become a big part of major sports events.
The second screen is also becoming a more effective platform for advertisers. For the first time this year the livestream ads were bundled together with linear ads, meaning people streaming the game saw the same ads as those watching on TV. Viewer behavior justified that decision. The majority of TV-ad driven searches during the big game happened on mobile on Google and YouTube searches (82% mobile, 11% desktop and 7% tablet), a 12% increase from last year. To use a quote from the article, "...if you advertise on the big screen, you also have to think about how you engage people on the small screen."
And the small screen is where all the action really is. When it comes to second screen experiences, fans have no shortage of options nowadays with each platform vying for users' attention. Let's take a look at how each platform fared during the big game.
Ranking Super Bowl 50's Second Screen Experiences
If you ask me, Snapchat was once again the undisputed champion of the second screen experience. For SB50 they featured not one, but two global live stories: one focusing on the match itself and the other on the global experience around it. The former even opened with President Barack Obama throwing the football at the White House. As far as a statement goes in a curated social story, it doesn't get much bigger than that.
Broadcasting two stories was also a clever way to make room for both fan-generated content to showcase the Super Bowl's global scope as well as celebrities and athletes attending the event. Of course, this also worked well to attract a wider variety of advertisers. It will be interesting to see how the half-time show evolves alongside advertisers on Snapchat in particular over the years.
The stories as usual were seamless, struck the right chord between accessible and repetitive content and integrated the many influencers at Levi's Stadium including the likes of David Beckham, Kaka, Lady Gaga and so on. The dynamic live score filters were also surprisingly fun to use and updated without any lag time.
Super Bowl Sunday also featured a sponsored lens by Gatorade that is said to have gotten a record 100 million views, an incredible number considering it was an ad product. No word yet on how many viewers the two global stories attracted but given the success of the lens you can imagine it could be a record-breaking event for Snapchat.
For Instagram, the curated experience is relatively uncharted territory. After adding the "explore" feature last year with improved trending tags and places they followed it up with a curated feed around events starting with Halloween. However, since then there have been very few use cases , particularly not of the magnitude that is the Super Bowl.
That made it all the more surprising just how engaging the story was during SB50. What is missed by many is that besides just quality content, these curated stories require a careful editorial touch, an understanding of what best resonates with users and the ability to adapt in real time to the stories and narratives that unfold around a particular event. Like Snapchat, Instagram did a great job handpicking the best pieces of content. It was probably the shortest of all stories but that's what made it so engaging.
The numbers weren't as substantial as the competing platforms but 38 million people having 155 million interactions during the game is a resounding win for Instagram and a great platform to build on.
Even though Snapchat and Instagram offered the better second screen experience from a content perspective, Twitter proved quite clearly that it remains the single-best and most relevant real-time platform during a live event. Including pre and posts game, Twitter's total SB50 audience was an astounding 4.3 billion gauged by 27 million tweets. The #SB50 hashtag trended well into the next day. Simply put, Twitter again owned the conversation.
Last year's match got more than 28 million so this is not a record for Tiwtter, but this came on the heels of the company's downsizing and plummeting stock prices. Crisis? You wouldn't know it based on Sunday's game. More than any other platform, Twitter is great at focusing the conversation and during a major event that means other brands have no choice but to participate, whether other sports teams like FC Bayern Munich or even organizations that you normally wouldn't associate with sports like NASA.
Unique to Twitter is also the ability for different stories to unfurl out of and live beyond the given live event. Marshawn Lynch retirement announcement during the game or Stephen Curry's post-game reaction created stories of their own that only prolonged the relevance of the event. Can you imagine this happening on any other platform? Not likely.
For Facebook this was a particularly interesting time since it was the first big sports event after launching its dedicated online sports hub, "Facebook Sports Stadium." And if #SB50 was any indicator, the usually flawless giant actually disappointed for once. According to FB, about 60 million people used the platform for 200 million posts during the game.
Those numbers are nothing to laugh at of course, but compared to the alternatives it fell a bit short in terms of delivery. Dozens took to Twitter to complain about how difficult it was to find the hub or the lag in score updates. In the game of real-time the biggest crime a platform can commit is being late with posts.
Facebook claims the lag was due to overwhelming traffic, but the experience itself was underwhelming. The different tabs to sort through whether you wanted to view your friends' conversation, experts, etc. was not user friendly and the content seemed scattered. The biggest challenge for Facebook is to convince users to make it a destination for real-time conversation during a sports event, and judging by the Super Bowl that's still some time away.
Any given broadcast can only deliver so much to the modern sports viewer. If you want to go beyond the match itself and the traditional commentary the second screen offers an immersive experience that simply cannot be replicated on linear TV.
All the while, platforms like Snapchat are helping evolve sports broadcasting and consumption, both from a user and advertiser's perspective. Sooner or later, experiencing a sports event on a second screen will be as intuitive as turning on the TV, and in many cases even the preferred and only option.