While nobody can predict how things like a stadium blackout or a polar vortex might affect the broadcast of an event like the Super Bowl, executives at Fox are doing all they can to prepare to make sure this year’s online coverage of the NFL’s championship game goes off as well as possible.
With viewership expected to exceed last year’s total of 3 million unique online viewers, the live stream of Super Bowl XLVIII will be available on iPads in the Fox Sports Go app and via a browser at FoxSportsGo.com. The online feed will be available free to anyone with an Internet connection starting at 12 a.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 2, and will also include access to a Spanish-language broadcast.
But remember: The live streaming from Fox is only available for desktops or laptops, or via an iPad using the FoxSportsGo app. Because of NFL rights contracts, to watch the game live on a smartphone you need to be a Verizon customer and have the $5 per month premium version of the NFL Mobile app installed.
No matter which platform you choose to use, as always the Super Bowl should be a compelling story, even if that tale is something other than the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Super Bowl XLVIII is scheduled to start around 6:30 p.m. ET from MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where snow and cold may be part of the equation.
“It should be interesting, with [possible] weather in New Jersey,” said Clark Pierce, senior vice president of mobile and advanced platforms for Fox Sports, in a phone interview earlier this week. “We’re ready for traffic to spike at some moment when something happens, and we get a lot of concurrent users. We’ll see how we do.”
Tablet audience keeps fueling growth
Granted, the online viewer numbers for the Super Bowl are completely dwarfed by the regular TV viewers, which for last year’s game totaled 164 million. But having 4 million unique viewers online is a huge digital audience, and it’s one that Pierce said Fox has been planning for over the past few years.
“We know what CBS did [for streaming] and we know what NBC did,” Pierce said of the networks which had the Super Bowl broadcast the past 2 years. “And we’re working with [content delivery network provider] Akamai, and it’s not their first rodeo. So I think we’re ready for whatever can happen.”
Perhaps the biggest number of online viewers for this year’s Super Bowl will come via Apple iPads, the market leader in the tablet form factor. While Fox has not yet released viewer numbers by device or platform for its restricted streaming of the NFC playoff games, it did say it had a record 2.4 million visitors to its FoxSports.com website on championship Sunday, a 53 percent increase over the previous year. Pierce said increases in digital viewers are partially due to the expanding tablet market, and tablet owners getting more comfortable watching sports on a smaller screen.
“The concept of watching TV on a smaller screen is another year down the road and people are just that much more used to it,” said Pierce, who also said that online viewers may choose tablets over laptops or desktops due to clearer pictures.
“People are getting spoiled by Apple and Android devices with really high screen resolution,” Pierce said.
Streaming delay inevitable
What doesn’t work so well with any live streaming option is trying to use it as a “second screen” alongside a live TV broadcast. Because of the technical necessities of putting a live signal online — which includes mainly taking the TV feed and encoding it to the Internet — delays between “live” TV and the show online can be from 20 seconds to a minute or more, Pierce said.
“It does take time to take a big HD picture and encode it into IP,” Pierce said. “There’s just no way around it.”
In the future, Pierce hopes to help Fox add more features to its online offerings, maybe making them something like what broadcast engineers see in the event production studios, with multiple monitors offering different feeds and live stats. Still, just having a free online broadcast is a huge leap forward from the recent past.
“It’s been exciting to build it, and in the future our team hopes to add more content and features,” Pierce said. “The horizon is pretty exciting.”