The One Problem With Watching the Super Bowl Online

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 31 2014 7:19 PM

How to Watch the Super Bowl Online, and Why You Won’t See the Same Commercials

2014 Super Bowl livestream online Fox Sports Go
You can watch the Super Bowl for free on your laptop or iPad, though it'll cost you to watch on a smartphone.

Image via FoxSportsGo.com

Good news, cord-cutters (and cord-nevers): For the third year running, the Super Bowl will be streamed live online for free in the United States. This year you can watch the Super Bowl live on Fox Sports Go starting at 6:30 p.m. eastern time. The website is FoxSportsGo.com, or you can use the Fox Sports Go iPad app

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

For Fox Sports Go, this represents a nice break from its usual live-stream policies, which require you to verify that you’re already paying for cable before you can watch online. Or, at least, that you know someone who pays for cable and is willing to share her username and password with you. (Shh.)  

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The free live stream might seem a little risky for the NFL and the networks at a time when pay-TV subscribers regularly cite live sports broadcasts as one of the main reasons they haven’t cut the cord yet. On the other hand, it's a great way to remove the incentive for piracy. A Fox Sports official tells Variety’s Todd Spangler that the network is looking at this “free preview” as a chance to showcase its live-streaming service, in hopes that people will be enticed to subscribe for future online sports broadcasts.

There are still a couple of catches, though. As CNN’s Heather Kelly points out, the NFL’s deal with Verizon means that Fox Sports won’t be allowed to stream the game to smartphones, only desktop computers and iPads. To watch on your phone, you’ll need a $5-per-month subscription to Verizon’s NFL Mobile service. (There’s also no Fox Sports Go app for Android tablet users, meaning they’ll have to try their luck with FoxSportsGo.com on their mobile browsers.)

But watching the Super Bowl on your mobile device sounds like a sad and lonely thing to do anyway. For a lot of online viewers watching on their computers—or on their TVs via their computers, as I’m planning to do—the bigger disappointment may be the commercials. Variety’s Spangler reports that Fox is selling its online ad slots separately from its inventory for the main telecast, so the ones that appear in the online feed won’t necessarily be the same ones the rest of the country is watching. If you don’t care about the commercials anyway, this is no big deal. But I suspect a lot of viewers will regret missing out on the chance to be armchair ad critics for the evening.

There is some solace for cord-cutters who also love (or love to hate) the commercials. Many have already been released online. And it seems that NFL.com will be keeping a continuously updating feed of all the commercials on its website during the game, which you can find here.

It's not clear yet just how different the online ads will be from those in the telecast. As of last week, Fox told Variety it had not yet succeeded in selling out its digital ad inventory for the big game, which suggests to me that either its prices are too high or advertisers are underestimating just how big (and valuable) that online audience might be. The 2012 live stream on NBC brought in about 2 million users, and CBS captured 3 million last year. I’m not basing this on much other than intuition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number tops 4 million this time around.

It will be interesting to see whether the Super Bowl telecast can continue to be such a draw for advertisers in the future as more and more of the audience migrates online. It’s possible that we’ll someday reach a point where the live stream audience begins to take a serious chunk out of the TV audience, at which point advertisers will have to decide which one to target, or perhaps shell out for both. But we’re not there yet. 

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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