This year's Super Bowl marks a digital first: The game will be the first Super Bowl that you can watch online -- legally. NBC, the broadcast partner for this year's game, is going to stream the game live.
NBC has actually been streaming some NFL games online since 2009, though never the Super Bowl. While it opens up the game to a whole new online audience, NBC sees it as a "second screen" experience -- a complement to the TV broadcast rather than an alternative.
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Still, streaming an event as huge the Super Bowl (last year's broadcast had a record 111 million viewers) brings with it a whole different set of variables. What devices can you watch it on? What extras will the stream have? And most important -- will it have the ads? Read on for our comprehensive guide to watching Super Bowl XLVI online.
How can I access the stream? You can watch the Super Bowl live at NBCSports.com or at NFL.com. Both sites will have the entire thing, including pre-game coverage, which starts at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, Feb. 4. Kickoff isn't until 6:30 p.m.
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What devices can I use to watch? That would be any laptop or desktop PC. Importantly, phones aren't supported, since Verizon has exclusive rights for streaming Super Bowl on mobile devices (more on that below). Tablets, including the iPad, aren't technically mobile, though, so the stream should work on those, via the devices' built-in web browser.
Can I access the stream from outside the U.S.? Not legitimately, no. Canadian fans who have mobile service through Bell Canada can watch the Super Bowl live via Bell's Mobile TV app.
Does it cost anything? Not a penny, although if you have any kind of data plan (i.e. if you were accessing via a 3G or 4G modem), data rates would apply.
Will I be able to embed the stream on my website? No.
Will I be able to see the same ads as on TV? Not quite. The actual stream will have a different ad roll than the broadcast. However, NBC will make new commercials available through an "on-demand component" of the video player immediately after they air on TV.
How much do advertisers spend on the online ads? Although the broadcast ads command a whopping $3.5 million for a 30-second spot, the Web isn't quite so lucrative. NBC says each ad for the Super Bowl stream costs somewhere between the "high six figures" to the "low seven figures."
Where can I watch the ads after the game? With all the sharing that's bound to happen on Facebook, Twitter et al., where won't you? For comprehensive aggregating, though, you should check out YouTube's Ad Blitz and Hulu's AdZone. Additionally, NBC is hosting a Google+ Hangout the next day to dissect the ads.
What's the deal with watching on my phone? Verizon is the exclusive NFL partner for mobile, and it's offering up the stream via the NFL Mobile Premium app. If you're a 4G LTE customer, that's free, but if you're on 3G it'll cost you -- you'll need to subscribe to Verizon Video ($10/month or $3/day). Obviously, you'll need a data plan.
Bell Canada customers can enjoy the Super Bowl live via Bell's Mobile TV app for phones and tablets. Mobile TV data plans are an additional $5 a month.
Is there anything different about the mobile stream? Yes! The mobile stream actually takes the TV feed -- not the online one -- so you'll see all the exact same ads that everyone watching the broadcast is seeing.
Just Verizon phones, though? Yep.
What's the resolution of the stream? The stream, based on Microsoft Silverlight, will have a maximum resolution of 720p, or the minimum to qualify as HD. However, if your connection can't handle that resolution, it will automatically "down-rez" itself into something you'll be able to see without buffering.
Will there be any features you can't get from the TV broadcast? Plenty. You'll have access to multiple camera angles, highlight clips, social-media updates, live statistics and DVR controls for your own instant replays.
What about 3D? Sorry, not this year.
What happens if the stream goes down? NBC says it's prepared for a much larger audience than its previous streams, but anything can happen. If the stream does go down, there's not much you can do except refresh and hope for the best.
Why is NBC doing this? NBC doesn't see an online stream as competing with its broadcast. Although it makes less money on ads shown online, it believes the stream is adding more eyeballs than it's taking away from its main broadcast. The network is treating the whole idea as a "second screen" experience, expecting most people watching the stream will also be watching the broadcast on a TV. We'll see how it pans out, but NBC is far from the first broadcaster to try and capitalize on the second screen phenomenon.
Bonus: The Most-Shared 2012 Super Bowl Ad Teasers So Far
1. "The Bark Side" (Volkswagen)
Not surprisingly, the sequel to the most-shared ad of last year's Super Bowl and of all of 2011 for that matter, is leading the pack this year. Volkswagen released this video last week showing dogs barking to the tune of Star Wars's "The Imperial March." So does that mean there will be dogs in this year's ad? More Star Wars? We'll know soon enough.
This story originally published on Mashable here.