Proof This Year's Super Bowl Failed to Excite the Internet

Super Bowl Celebrations Denver

A young boy watches the television during Super Bowl 50, on Feb. 7.

Photographer: Andy Cross/Denver Post via Getty Images
  • Time spent viewing ads on YouTube stays near last year's level
  • Growing social media sites not immune to a less exciting game

Despite another season of Super Bowl-sized hype from Silicon Valley, some tech companies didn’t exactly win this year. Online activity surrounding the big game actually declined by some measures -- an unusual occurrence for big public events in the age of social media.

Facebook said 60 million people shared something about the game through its network, contributing a total of 200 million posts, comments, and likes. That fell from last year’s Super Bowl, when 65 million people contributed 265 million posts, comments or likes. Numbers dropped even after Facebook rolled out a new real-time experience for football fans with its Sports Stadium feature, which struggled with spotty performance during the NFL championship game. A spokesman for the company blamed “overwhelming traffic and activity.”

Twitter saw 16.9 million tweets about the game from 3.8 million unique authors, according to Nielsen’s Twitter TV rankings. That’s a decline of about a third from last year, when Nielsen counted 25.1 million tweets.

The change may indicate more about the games’ level of drama than the social media platforms themselves. While quarterbacks Cam Newton and Peyton Manning brought star power, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos simply aren’t as popular as last year’s contenders, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, whose game ended in a last-minute win for the Patriots. And this year’s defensive game -- which Denver won, 24-10 -- probably left the average fan with less to say. CBS also reported lower television ratings compared with last year.

Still, online activity seemed to stagnate around another major part of the Super Bowl unrelated to the game’s intensity -- the advertisements. Presumably people don’t stop watching advertisements on YouTube just because Carolina’s offensive line can’t get Newton enough time to throw any long touchdown passes.

According to a blog post dated Monday from video-sharing site YouTube, viewers have watched almost 4 million hours of Super Bowl advertisements or ad teasers so far this year. That’s about the same as last year, a striking difference from the audience growth from 2014 to 2015, when the time spent with ads on YouTube almost doubled. Even though time spent with YouTube ads didn’t change much, the actual number of ads watched did increase. People watched Super Bowl ad-related content 330 million times by Monday morning, up from 234 million times last year. One explanation for the discrepancy could be that last year’s videos were longer.

‘Hashtag Bowl’

Advertisers have also moved slowly away from trying to use television ads to drive people to social networks. According to Marketing Land’s “Hashtag Bowl,” the use of Twitter hashtags in TV spots dropped for the second straight year, and is now below 2013 levels.

Representatives for YouTube, owned by Internet search giant Google, and Facebook declined to comment about the overall level of activity on their platforms. Twitter representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Super Bowl-related numbers.

Meanwhile, Facebook-owned photo-sharing app Instagram for the first time had a Super Bowl video channel, where it pulled in content from celebrities, fans and football players. The company said 38 million people had 155 million interactions related to Super Bowl 50, including posts, likes and comments.

Still, for Facebook, Google and Twitter, most new growth is coming from outside the U.S., and those users are less interested in American football. Seeing Super Bowl-related activity on their platforms stagnate is probably a reminder that the bigger you get, the harder it gets to grow.

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