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In a digital world of ad blocking and general ad avoidance, the annual Super Bowl telecast stands out as one of the last remaining bastions of TV's glory days—when American eyeballs weren't distracted by smartphones and tablets. But how long can this last? Maybe longer than you think.
According to the National Retail Federation, last year, 77.1% of consumers surveyed considered Super Bowl ads a form of entertainment. A tiny portion, just 4.5%, said the ads bothered them.
And while TV viewership is declining as digital video viewership grows, eMarketer projects that digital video viewers won’t outnumber TV viewers in the foreseeable future. This year, 205.7 million American adults will watch cable or satellite TV, compared with 172.1 million adults who will watch digital video—including those who watch only short-form content. While the gap narrows by 2019, traditional TV will still have more viewers than digital video—199.6 million vs. 185.3 million.
And a large portion of those watching traditional TV are watching sports. In fact, sports are better protected—perhaps more than any other content form—from the exodus of viewers from traditional TV.
Of course, even though people are generally not annoyed by commercials during the Super Bowl, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily giving them 100% of their attention either. eMarketer estimates that this year, US adults will spend 2 hours and 28 minutes a day (on average) on their smartphones, excluding phone calls. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2015 survey, 11.2% of respondents said they always use a mobile device while watching TV in general. And 23.7% said they sometimes do so.
The good news for marketers is that at least some of the time people may be spending on their phones during the big game will be spent engaging with social media—often to share comments about the game or the commercials.
“The Super Bowl drives an incredible amount of social media commentary and interaction,” says eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “Advertisers want to be where their audience is, and that’s in social media. Last year, 65 million people worldwide used Facebook to talk about the game while it was happening, according to the company.”
According to a December 2015 study by Shareablee, 21% of sports viewers engage with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while watching an event. And a December 2015 study by AdParlor says 82% of US marketers will use Facebook for Super Bowl ad campaigns. Sixty-nine percent will use YouTube and 68% will use Twitter.
“Some conversations start well before kickoff; even if someone isn’t necessarily a football fan, chances are they are still curious about the ads,” says Williamson. “That’s why marketers pre-release their ads on platforms like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. They know that if people start buzzing about an ad early, chances are the ad will get more exposure.”
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