The history and growth of electronic media has been marked by some key events, when explosions of audience interest took new media to new plateaus. Arguably the John F. Kennedy assassination and the first moon landing were landmark events in television coverage that went far beyond U.S. audiences. CNN's compelling coverage of the first Gulf War put cable news on the map and was the first stake (of many) into the hearts of the print newsweeklies.
According to Nielsen, a record 106.5 million people watched the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in this year's Super Bowl. That's the biggest audience for a televised event in the U.S. ever, beating the finale of "M*A*S*H," which averaged almost 106 million viewers when it ran in 1983. Certainly the television landscape has changed since 1983, when there were 83.3 million television homes in the U.S. (now there are about 115 million) -- and the biggest change is the proliferation of screens on which to connect to big events.
When it comes to big-event programming, it's becoming clear that multiplatform viewing is more friend than foe to television ratings. "The growth of social media creates a national water cooler for viewers to share thoughts and trade quips about what they're watching. Someone watching the game alone can now feel like they are watching it at a party without having to worry about cleaning up dishes later," says the L.A. Times.
The World Cup -- and the U.S. win over Algeria yesterday -- is a seminal moment for multiplatform media consumption. Last Friday's disputed tie between the U.S. and Slovenia resulted in ESPN3.com's largest audience ever, 798,911 unique viewers. From June 11 through June 18, close to 3.4 million unique users logged on to stream part of the tournament. Univision Interactive Media is making live video of the matches available on television, online, mobile and video-on-demand. To date, the tournament has delivered over 180 million page views and 23.3 million visits across platforms for Univision Interactive. Besides live video, the World Cup has also captured the attention of mobile users -- who generated 1.8 million video views during the tournament's first week -- along with Web radio listeners. During the final moments of the U.S. Slovenia game, ESPNRadio.com reached nearly 100,000 concurrent listeners.
More than 14 million Americans watched the U.S. play England, and yesterday's game probably reached many more. That the game occurred during the standard work day for much of the U.S. meant that many folks couldn't watch it at home, and probably saw it on TVs at work (more than one of my friends headed for the nearest pub in New York to celebrate in a community of watchers), and certainly many, many saw it on their PCs or on their mobile or tablet devices. Many others followed it on social media, using Twitter and Facebook to deliver or receive updates. Many folks probably used location services to find out where others were watching it, to meet them there.
Since I am in L.A. for the Promax/BDA Conference, I ended up watching the game on four different devices. I started watching it on a TV in my hotel room, then I watched the gamecast on ESPN.com on my iPad as I walked to a breakfast, then after my breakfast, I checked in to ESPN.com again on my iPhone, and then watched the end of the game on a big screen at the conference hotel with dozens of others.
A report by IPG media agency Initiative Worldwide says that the last FIFA World Cup in 2006 was the most-watched TV sporting event of that year, with an average 95 million viewers per match. It's not clear yet how big the global TV audience will be for the 2010 games, especially since the final round of games is a few weeks away. But it's a safe bet that they will handily beat 2006 numbers, especially if the U.S. stays competitive.
Since no one can really track multiplatform usage very well yet, I wonder if we'll ever really know just how vast the global audience for World Cup games has been. Even if we get a separate number for each platform, there will have been a far amount of audience duplication -- since, like me, lots of folks are using multiple access points to tap into the games.
How about you: How many ways have you used to watch World Cup action?