A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“It’s the first Super Bowl ever without a touchdown for three quarters,” Jim Nantz said at the start of the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, mustering up as much enthusiasm as he could.
In the end, the Patriots won again. “DYNASTY ROLLS ON,” reads the commemorative cover of Monday’s Boston Globe.
But beyond New England, will anything about Super Bowl 53 be memorable? Judging from social media reactions and columns from critics, the answer is no. Sunday’s low-scoring game was anything but super. It was a bore! Same for the halftime show. As Spencer Kornhaber of the Atlantic wrote, “Maroon 5’s halftime show felt designed to be forgotten.”
The Twitter account for Mercedes-Benz USAㅤ even weighed in at one point: “If this game weren’t in my stadium, I would have driven away by now.” Benz later deleted the post, but not before many Twitter users chimed in to agree.
From a media business perspective, the NFL and this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster, CBS, want the most exciting program possible. Then again, the ad spots sold for $5 million apiece regardless…
How many people watched?
BEFORE the game began, I was predicting a year-over-year Super Bowl ratings increase, in keeping with the NFL’s season-long gains. My guess: 110 million. But obviously now I’m not so sure. The game was so low-scoring, I suspect some folks switched over to the “Puppy Bowl” on Animal Planet or “Titanic” on TNT, etc. We’ll have all the Nielsen #’s up on CNN Business by midday Monday…
>> A related Q: Did the game give a big boost to “The World’s Best?” We’ll see…
Let’s hear it for Tony Romo and Jim Nantz
“I think Nantz and Romo have approached this game perfectly,” The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch tweeted. “More humor than I’ve ever heard in a Super Bowl – and rightly so.” TIME recapped the praise for Romo here…
Chloe’s dispatch from the stadium
CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas grew up in Atlanta, and Sunday was her first Super Bowl experience… “Overall, awesome,” she told me… But the sense in the stands was that the “game was underwhelming, and so was Maroon 5’s halftime performance. All week there was buzz that the band would bring out a surprise guest, but they played it safe.” Melas added: “Don’t get me wrong, it was an experience I’ll never forget – but if I had one word to describe the game and halftime it would be – blah…”
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
– “Travis Scott, Big Boi, an incredible gospel choir, and SpongeBob Squarepants all stepped up to help Maroon 5 carry a loaded Super Bowl halftime show,” Lisa Respers France and Sandra Gonzalez write… (CNN)
– Deadline’s Dominic Patten says it was “one of the worst Super Bowl halftime shows ever…” It “didn’t so much crash and burn as simply sputtered…” (Deadline)
– Katie Pellico emails: CBS Sports reporter Tracy Wolfson deserves a trophy for “navigating the crush, then executing the perfect post-game Q&A with Brady,” in the words of ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. Making for one of the tenser moments of the evening, CBS kept rolling on Wolfson as she maneuvered through the media scrum, waiting on the QB for several minutes. At one point, her mic picked up a man asking, “are you okay?” (Twitter)
These ads stood out
“While it’s popular to say ‘The ads were better than the game,’ they collectively weren’t, even in the midst of a low-scoring affair,” Brian Lowry wrote in this review of the ads.
Based on first impressions, he said “there wasn’t a single spot we’ll be discussing years from now.” But the winners included Bud Light/Game of Thrones, Google, Microsoft, Hulu, Disney, Kia, Budweiser, the Washington Post, and Stella Artois…
“Knowing keeps us free”
The Washington Post’s ad in the fourth quarter was for much more than just The Post. I transcribed Tom Hanks’ narration:
“When we go off to war. When we exercise our rights. When we soar to our greatest heights. When we mourn and pray.” Photos of historic news events.”When our neighbors are at risk. When our nation is threatened. There’s someone to gather the facts.” Clips of Wesley Lowery, Anderson Cooper and Bret Baier. “To bring you the story, no matter the cost.” Photos of Austin Tice, Marie Colvin and Jamal Khashoggi.
“Because KNOWING empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.”
Then the Post’s slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” appeared on screen, followed by the paper’s logo… There wasn’t any explicit call to action, like “subscribe…”
Bezos rival Tim Cook also shared the ad on social media, writing, “Proud to stand with @washingtonpost and journalists everywhere in support of press freedom…”
Streaming ads on broadcast’s biggest night
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube TV were all over the broadcast… “START STREAMING NOW,” one of YouTube’s ads said…
The @Netflix Twitter feed poked fun at the game while promoting “Our Planet…” The company’s ad for the series caught my eye… Per Deadline, “‘Our Planet’ is the first nature documentary series to be featured in a national Super Bowl ad…”
>> @Netflix also gave up a tiny bit of usage data: During the game, Netflix viewing in the United States was down “about 32% compared to a normal Sunday…”
Hulu’s “Handmaid’s” spot
Hulu hasn’t announced a premiere date for season three of “The Handmaid’s Tale” yet, but it used the game to start the marketing campaign… Via Hulu PR, the spot took inspiration “from Ronald Reagan’s iconic ‘Morning in America’ campaign commercial to creatively set-up the storyline for the upcoming season, which features themes of optimism, hope and renewal as characters attempt to take a stand against Gilead.” AdWeek’s Sara Jerde has details here…
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
– This was a “play-it-safe year” for advertisers… (NYT)
– About the death of Bud Knight: “Anheuser-Busch InBev let HBO hijack its Super Bowl commercial, in one of the biggest and boldest marketing tie-ins” HBO has ever orchestrated… (WSJ)
– “How Burger King turned documentary footage of Andy Warhol eating a Whopper into its Super Bowl ad…” (AdWeek)
– Some people were freaked out by Michelob Ultra’s “autonomous sensory meridian response” themed ad… (CNN)
– Did you notice all the robots? “Michelob Ultra, Pringles, TurboTax Super Bowl ads try to make you feel better about AI taking over, with sad robots…” (CNBC)
– Brian Steinberg’s take: The ad breaks “were filled with visions of intelligent robots and electric cars; nods to new eating habits; tantalizing peeks at streaming video; and reminders of the new power of women…” (Variety)
Media week ahead calendar
Monday: The 15th anniversary of Facebook (FB)’s birth…
Monday: Alphabet (GOOG) reports earnings after the bell…
Tuesday: Jill Abramson’s book “Merchants of Truth” hits bookshelves…
Tuesday: The American Magazine Media Conference takes place in NYC…
Tuesday evening: The rescheduled State of the Union and Democratic response…
Thursday evening: I’ll be speaking at this Newseum event in DC, following up on last August’s coordinated free press editorials…
Sunday: The Grammys!