A compelling, high-scoring game between teams from major markets that isn’t decided until the final couple of minutes is what television executives dream of when they pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl.
That was exactly what NBC got Sunday night, and while the network was rewarded with by far the largest television audience since last year’s Super Bowl, even the season’s biggest game was not entirely immune from the ratings drop that has afflicted the N.F.L. over the past two seasons.
NBC said 103.4 million viewers watched the Super Bowl on television — 106 million if digital streaming is included — making it the 10th most watched program in television history. Last year, 111.3 million viewers saw New England’s comeback victory over Atlanta on TV; the viewership on Sunday was the lowest for a Super Bowl since 98.7 million people watched Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
The actual broadcast of the game was stellar, aside from Justin Timberlake’s critically panned halftime performance and a brief blackoutduring a second-quarter commercial break that NBC attributed to an “equipment failure.”
NBC needed a big Super Bowl win in the worst way, and depending upon your perspective, the network might have achieved it. The 7 percent ratings decline from last year’s Super Bowl was less than the drop for its flagship “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts, which fell 11 percent this season.
Advertising revenue dropped across the N.F.L., and networks were forced to give away free commercials to advertisers because of missed ratings guarantees. NBC also lost money televising “Thursday Night Football” the past two seasons, leading it to submit a low bid to retain the rights. Fox wonthe bidding to show it for the next five seasons.
NBC said it expected $500 million in advertising revenue from the Super Bowl, where commercials were sold for about $5 million for each 30-second time slot.
But the importance of this Super Bowl to NBC went beyond ratings and any revenue it took directly from ad sales. The Winter Olympics are coming — the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is Friday, and the Games end Feb. 25 — and NBC is the first network to broadcast the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics in the same year since CBS did so in 1992.
The network persuaded many advertisers to buy package deals of commercial time during both the Super Bowl and Olympics, and, as you might have noticed (and then noticed again and again), NBC used the Super Bowl as a giant platform to promote the Games.