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One of the effects of technologies such as TiVo, DVR, YouTube, Hulu, and so on has been declining television ratings over the years. Television consumers are no longer limited to watching television shows at their scheduled times. And yet this year, the Super Bowl attracted a record number of viewers—not just compared with other Super Bowls but for any television broadcast ever.

Specifically, 106.5 million people, or 7.8 percent more than last year, watched the Saints beat the Colts. The previous record for the most viewers was set in 1983, with the series finale of MASH. Today, there are 38 percent more television households than in 1983, and still a larger percentage of them watched the Super Bowl. This fact is especially impressive, considering the vast differences in people’s consumer behavior compared with that in the early 1980s.

Perhaps new media such as social networking sites actually encourage U.S. consumers to watch live events, so that they can participate in the subsequent discourse on Twitter, social networks, blogs, and fantasy sport sites. Furthermore, even as more people watch regularly scheduled television less and less, live televised events seem to be growing more popular as reasons for consumers to come together and watch at a specified time. As much as consumers are participating in new forms of media, they are still using traditional media.

Advertisers in turn are rushing to advertise during live events such as the Grammy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and the World Series. Even season finales of shows such as American Idol draw larger audiences and thus more advertising dollars. There are very few televised shows that U.S. consumers still watch live, so for 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad time, advertisers were willing to pay out up to $29 million this year.

Discussion Questions:

1. What makes live events, whether sports, award shows, or reality programming, so appealing for consumers to watch at the moment they are televised?

Sam Schechner, and Shira Ovide, “Record Draw for Super Bowl,” The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2010.