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Nielsen says ‘irregularities’ resulted in errant Super Bowl viewership data

The measurement firm now says 115.1 million people watched all of Super Bowl LVII on Fox, an adjustment of around 2 million.

The measurement firm now says 115.1 million people watched all of Super Bowl LVII on Fox, an adjustment of around 2 million.

State Farm Stadium, as it appeared before Super Bowl LVII, in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons; Graphic by The Desk)
State Farm Stadium, as it appeared before Super Bowl LVII, in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons; Graphic by The Desk)

Fox Sports and Nielsen have revised their total viewership figures for households that watched all of Super Bowl LVII, saying the program was the most-watched Super Bowl in television history, after the data was adjusted to account for “irregularities” in the way the audience was measured two months ago.

The adjusted data now shows 115.1 million households watched Super Bowl LVII from start to finish, an upward adjustment of 2 million viewers compared to the 113 million reported in February.

“This revision is the product of a thorough review by Nielsen that revealed irregularities in the encoding that enables Nielsen’s measurement of TV viewing as well as issues with the out-of-home measurement of Super Bowl LVII,” a spokesperson for Fox Sports said in a statement on Tuesday.

The updated figures are a big win for Fox Sports, which can now claim its telecast of the championship match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs was the most-watched Super Bowl in history. Even before the adjustment, Fox was able to lay claim to three of the five most-watched Super Bowl telecasts by total viewership figures.

The adjustment is an embarrassment for Nielsen, which has been hammered over the last few years with accusations from broadcast networks and others in the media space that its data isn’t accurate or whole, and that its measurement tools haven’t kept pace with consumer shifts toward new video platforms like streaming services.

In late 2021, officials at Nielsen confirmed its “out-of-home” measurement tools — which are used to measure consumption of media content in bars, restaurants, hotels and other public places — was undercounting viewers for months due to software bugs and other issues. Nielsen promised the problem would be fixed, and offered to report corrected data several weeks later. (Out-of-home measurement was also blamed for the undercounting of Super Bowl LVII viewers here.)

Nielsen’s data is critical for media companies like Fox Sports, who use the firm’s measurement tools and reports to set advertising rates. The issues with Nielsen have been so problematic for broadcasters and other media companies that some have taken it upon themselves to look for so-called “alternative currencies,” or different measurement tools to base their ad rates on.

For Nielsen, the data reporting woes have become so prevalent that the Media Ratings Council (MRC) pulled the firm’s accreditation in September 2021 after finding the firm had undercounted television viewership on both a local and national level. Two weeks ago, MRC restored Nielsen’s accreditation; it wasn’t clear if MRC knew that Nielsen was about to disclose data irregularities with respect to what is typically the most-watched television event of the year.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).