Sunday will mark the 17th time that NBC has broadcast the Super Bowl, tying it with CBS for the most in NFL history. Here’s a brief history of the Super Bowl on TV.
The AFL-NFL World Championship Game Simulcast
In 1967, NBC and CBS simulcast the first Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, which was then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. NBC and CBS used the same video feed, but different announcers. NBC was still in commercial when the second half kicked off, leading the referee to blow the ball dead while it was in the air. The Packers were asked to kick off again. The simulcast marked the last time that an NFL game was televised on two networks until December 2007, when the league allowed NBC and CBS to show the New England Patriots’ bid to complete a perfect regular season against the New York Giants.
The first Super Bowl was broadcast on two networks, but in only one language. Sunday’s game will be shown in more than 180 countries and in 30 different languages.
According to David Tossell, director of public affairs for NFL International, 15 foreign crews are in Indianapolis to broadcast the game. “That’s a big increase over the last few years,” Tossell said. SiriusXM radio will offer 12 different live broadcasts in eight languages, including English, Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Flemish, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese. Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers marked the first time that the game was broadcast in the Navajo language. Former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, worked as a color analyst for CCTV, a Chinese network, during Super Bowl XXXVIII. Lewis, who played college football at BYU, became fluent in Mandarin while on a Mormon mission to China.
What’s a Super Bowl Broadcast Worth?
Super Bowls regularly rank among the most-watched primetime programs. In fact, the past four Super Bowls rank as four of the five most-watched broadcasts in U.S. history, with the M*A*S*H finale from 1983 now ranked No. 3. More than 110 million people are expected to watch Sunday’s game. According to Forbes, the price of a Super Bowl ad has increased by 5.7% annually over the last 14 years and the average 30-second spot this year cost $3.5 million. (A 30-second spot during Super Bowl I cost $42,000, or roughly $280,000 when controlling for inflation). While NBC will use some Super Bowl ad space to promote its own shows, it should bring in more than $250 million in advertising revenue this year. Given the number of viewers, many analysts consider Super Bowl spots a bargain for advertisers.
From 1968 through 1984, NBC and CBS alternated the rights to the Super bowl. ABC got into the mix in 1985, and garnered buzz leading up to the game by shaking up its announcing assignments. For its Super Bowl debut, ABC bumped O.J. Simpson from the broadcast booth to a studio analyst gig in favor of Joe Theismann, who provided color commentary along with Don Meredith. Frank Gifford handled the play-by-play duties. Fox broadcast its first Super Bowl in 1997 with the familiar team of Pat Summerall and John Madden in the booth. ABC last had the Super Bowl’s broadcast rights in 2006. Since then, the rights have rotated among CBS, Fox, and NBC. Those three networks recently extended their TV deals with the NFL through the 2022 season, with the total combined annual rights fees totaling around $3 billion.
More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.
If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:
"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"
The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.
Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.
"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"
After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).
SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR
Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.
Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.
WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT
Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.
When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."
But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.
WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT
When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.
The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.
Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:
"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.
Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."
THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP
A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).
Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in TheWall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:
In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:
Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.
* = A Note on the Airing in 1983
Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!
In 1966, two football leagues were vying for gridiron dominance: the venerable NFL and the sport's newcomer, the AFL. On June 8, 1966, the two leagues announced their plans to merge, rather than compete over players and a split fanbase. This meant a new championship game had to be conceived that would show which was the dominant league every year. Today we know it as the Super Bowl—one of the most polished, extravagant events of the entire year. But on January 15, 1967, when the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game took place, it was something bordering on a disaster, with television mishaps, a dispute over the name, and thousands of empty seats marring the very first Super Bowl Sunday. To see how the big game nearly fell apart, here are eight facts about the first Super Bowl.
1. IT WAS ONLY CASUALLY KNOWN AS THE SUPER BOWL AT FIRST.
In 1966, meetings were going on about the first-ever championship game between the NFL and the upstart AFL set to be played in January of that next year. In addition to talking about location and logistics, the big question on everyone’s mind was what to call it. Though Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner at the time, suggested names like The Big One and The Pro Bowl (which was the same name as the NFL’s own all-star game), it was eventually decided that the game would be called … the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.
A name like that just doesn’t create much buzz, though, and the newly merged league needed something punchier. Then Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, recalled a toy his children played with, a Super Ball, which led to his idea: the Super Bowl.
The name picked up support from fans and the media, but Rozelle hated it, viewing the word “Super” as too informal. By the time the game began, the tickets read “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” but people were still offhandedly referring to it as the Super Bowl. By the fourth year, the league caved and finally printed Super Bowl on the game's tickets. For Super Bowl V, the Roman numerals made their debut and stayed there every year except Super Bowl 50 in 2016. (The first three championship games have also been officially renamed Super Bowls retroactively.)
2. THE GAME WAS AIRED ON TWO DIFFERENT NETWORKS.
Since the first Super Bowl involved two completely different organizations, there was a bit of an issue televising the game. NBC had the rights to air AFL games, while CBS was the longtime rights holder for the NFL product. Neither station was going to miss out on its respective league’s championship game, so the first Super Bowl was the only one to be simulcast on two different networks. Rival networks also meant rival announcing teams: CBS used their familiar roster of play-by-play man Ray Scott in the first half, Jack Whitaker in the second half, and Frank Gifford doing color commentary for the entire game. Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman led the voices for NBC.
It turns out the competition between the two networks for ratings superiority was just as intense as the helmet-rattling game played on the field. Tensions were so high leading up to game day that a fence had to be built in between the CBS and NBC production trucks to keep everyone separate. The more familiar NFL broadcast team over on CBS won the ratings war that day, beating NBC’s feed by just a bit over 2 million viewers.
3. THE GAME DIDN’T COME CLOSE TO A SELLOUT.
The cheapest price for a Super Bowl 51 ticket is currently hovering around $2000, but frankly, you could probably charge people double that and the game would be a guaranteed sellout. The first Super Bowl, however, didn’t quite have that same cachet behind it. With tickets averaging around $12, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game couldn’t manage to sell out the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1967. It’s still the only Super Bowl not to fill up its venue.
Despite blacking the game out on TV stations within 75 miles of the Coliseum to get fans to the stadium rather than watching at home, about a third of the stadium’s seats were empty. Some fans balked at the steep $12 ticket prices, while others were so incensed at the blackout that they stayed away out of protest. Whatever the reason, the sight of tens of thousands of empty seats for what was supposed to be the most important game in both leagues’ history was not what Rozelle had in mind when the Super Bowl was conceived.
4. DIFFERENT BALLS AND DIFFERENT RULES WERE USED FOR THE GAME.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
The overall product between the AFL and NFL weren’t that different, but there were a few hiccups when making the rules fair for both teams. The AFL’s two-point conversion rule, which it used for the entirety of its existence, was barred from the game, allowing only the traditional point-after field goal instead. When the AFL and NFL later merged, the two-point conversion was banished altogether until 1994, when it was reinstated league-wide.
The other big change for the game was the ball itself. The AFL used a ball made by Spalding, which was slightly longer, narrower, and had a tackier surface than the NFL’s ball, which was created by Wilson. To make each team feel at home, their own league’s ball would be used whenever they were on offense.
5. THE SECOND HALF KICKOFF HAD TO BE REDONE BECAUSE CAMERAS MISSED IT.
When the second half of Super Bowl I began, everyone was ready for the kickoff: players, refs, and the production crew. Well, one production crew was ready, anyway. It turns out NBC missed the opening kickoff of the second half because the network was too busy airing an interview with Bob Hope. The kickoff had to be redone for the sake of nearly half the TV audience; even worse, some poor soul probably had to break the news to Packers coach Vince Lombardi.
6. THE HALFTIME SHOW INCLUDED TWO DUDES IN JETPACKS.
Forget your Bruno Mars and Beyoncé performances; Super Bowl I’s halftime show was an affront to gravity itself as two men in what can only be described as jetpacks (though technically they were called “rocket belts”) flew around the field to give people a glimpse at what the future of slightly above-ground travel would look like. Very little video exists of the spectacle today, but this performance was later revisited at the halftime show for Super Bowl XIX, when jetpacks made their long-awaited return to gridiron absurdity.
In addition to airborne theatrics, the inaugural show also included some marching bands and the release of hundreds of pigeons into the air—one of which dropped a present right on the typewriter of a young Brent Musburger.
7. THE ORIGINAL BROADCAST FOOTAGE IS CURRENTLY IN LEGAL LIMBO.
Unlike today, where games are DVR’ed, saved, edited into YouTube clips, and preserved for all eternity, there is no complete copy of the broadcast edition of Super Bowl I. In 2005, a man from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, found a copy of the CBS broadcast in his attic, which had been recorded by his father on two-inch quadruplex tapes. However, the halftime show and parts of the third quarter are missing. The footage has been digitally restored and is currently locked in a vault at The Paley Center for Media in Manhattan. To this day, it hasn’t been shown to the public as Troy Haupt, the tape’s owner, is in legal limbo with the NFL over the exact worth of the footage.
8. THE NFL TRIED—AND FAILED—TO SHOW THE GAME IN SOME FORM IN 2016.
Perhaps as a way to show Haupt that they didn’t need his tapes, the NFL Network released a version of the game cobbled together not from CBS or NBC footage, but from video edited together from its then-nascent NFL Films division. With the game’s radio call played over it, every play from the game was aired in 2016, albeit not how it was originally seen in 1967. Unfortunately, the game also featured some questionable running commentary from the NFL Network’s current analysts during the entire broadcast. The re-broadcast was such as disaster that the NFL Network had to re-re-broadcast it without the intrusive commentary from its own analysts.