The Baltimore Ravens won an absurdly close Super Bowl after a power outage sapped most of their momentum and almost helped the San Francisco 49ers score a last-minute win.
Another big winner was CBS, which ended up with a close game after what looked — before the outage — like a blowout. A lopsided score is bad news for a network, because viewers tune out when a game's outcome looks certain.
It was unclear whether enough viewers stuck around to help Sunday's Super Bowl break the record set by last year's game as the most-watched program in U.S. television history. New Orleans' Superdome officials may be hoping that as few viewers as possible saw the moment their lights went out.
Also read: Superdome Power Outage Delays Super Bowl
But Super Bowl XLVII turned out to be a nailbiter, at least partly thanks to the 34-minute delay caused by the outage. San Francisco took advantage of the break in Baltimore's rhythm to rally back from a 28-6 score in the third quarter before falling short with the final score of 34-31. With two minutes remaining, the game was completely up in the air.
"That power outage basically helped the 49ers, no question about it," said CBS's Boomer Esiason after the game, saying what everyone was thinking.
But at least the outage didn't cost the Ravens the Super Bowl.
Baltimore almost getting screwed over in New Orleans would have been the stuff David Simon shows are made of. His "The Wire" portrayed Baltimore as the Charlie Brown of cities, always getting the football pulled away before a big kick. And his "Treme" portrays a New Orleans battling bad luck and bureaucratic incompetence.
One or both of those were on display Sunday as the Superdome went partly dark during the most-watched event each year on U.S. television. This was a moment for New Orleans to shine — and only half of its stadium did.
Also read: Super Bowl Most-Watched U.S. Show Ever
CBS, however, handled the interruption capably. Despite losing power to several cameras and audio sources, the network stayed on the air throughout the debacle.
Sideline reporter Steve Tasker first informed viewers of the outage after a commercial break around 8:40 ET, explaining that he was addressing them, rather than announcer Jim Nantz, because "half the power in New Orleans' stadium, the Superdome here, is out." The regular commentators were among those initially affected.
Within moments, though, they were back on the air, trading jokes about whether the outage was caused by Beyonce's light-filled halftime show or a "power surge" by the Ravens' offense. As the broadcasters vamped, viewers saw footage of Ravens and 49ers players stretching to stay warmed up for whenever the game resumed. It finally did after 34 minutes.
It was unclear whether CBS was able to turn the misfortune into ad dollars. The network declined to respond to repeated inquiries about whether it was able to sell additional ads during the delay.
But the network did say in a prepared statement that "all commercial commitments during the broadcast are being honored." A CBS spokeswoman also said that all scheduled ads had aired.
Meeting ad commitments was crucial because of the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Last year, advertisers sunk an estimated $262.5 million into ads, according to Kantar Media. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said this year that some customers paid north of $4 million for ads — a hefty increase from the $3.5 million NBC charged last year.
Last year's Super Bowl narrowly edged out 2011's game as the most-watched television show in U.S. history. The 2011 game, in turn, broke the 2010 record.
If that pattern holds, Sunday's Super Bowl will break the record again.
But there is no telling what effect the power outage — and subsequent 49ers rally — will have on viewership. Preliminary numbers were expected early Monday.
And it's anybody's game.