MINNEAPOLIS — 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 is exactly what NBC got Sunday night.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ thrilling 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots earned a preliminary 47.4 overnight rating, down 3 percent from New England’s comeback win over Atlanta last year. When final numbers come out, they will confirm that more than 100 million viewers watched the game on average, by far the largest television audience since last year’s Super Bowl.
Perhaps the only disappointments from the game were Justin Timberlake’s critically panned halftime performance and a brief blackout during a second-quarter commercial break that NBC blamed on an “equipment failure.”
NBC needed a big Super Bowl win in the worst way. Ratings for its flagship “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts fell by 11 percent this season, and advertising revenue dropped across the N.F.L. as networks were forced to give away free commercials to advertisers because of missed ratings guarantees.
NBC said it expected to earn $500 million in advertising revenue from the Super Bowl.
But the importance of this Super Bowl went beyond any revenue it directly derived from ad sales. The Winter Olympics are coming — the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is Friday — and NBC is the first network to broadcast the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics in the same year since CBS in 1992.
As you might have noticed, that allowed NBC to use the Super Bowl as a giant platform to promote the Games.
The network knows it has to educate many American viewers. Pyeongchang, not exactly a familiar location, is also in an unfavorable time zone for NBC, 14 hours ahead of New York. With several promotions in precious commercial slots, NBC used its captive Super Bowl audience to try to excite people about some of the athletes and events they will see over the next three weeks.