Ronn Torossian- NBC embarrassed by Super Blackout

Super Bowl. It’s generally considered the single most important TV-viewing night in the year. Tens of millions of people tune in, and everyone is talking about it for days or weeks after the “greatest event in American sports.” So, it stands to reason you want to put your best foot forward, that you hope everything goes off without a hitch.

Beyond the standard back and forth about which commercials were the best and which were … not so great … there were a few interesting developments at this year’s Super Bowl that influenced consumer views on several major entertainment brands.

First, there was the empathetic outpouring for anthem-singer Pink. For any American singer, the opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl is a crowning achievement, a once in a lifetime chance to capture hearts and inspire millions. There have been some truly amazing and sadly mediocre performances in the past. Most, these days, are still measured against the heart-stopping performance by Whitney Houston at Super Bowl XXV back in 1991.

That’s what Pink was up against, and everyone was rooting for her. Fans already knew she had the vocal chops to deliver an incredible rendition… What they didn’t know is that the singer had been battling the flu all week. Yet she gamely stepped up to the mic and did her best. The performance was not great, by any objective measure, and Twitter started lighting up. Then, the news dropped about her illness, and the entire narrative immediately shifted to expressions of gratitude and empathy.

Not everyone received the same level of consideration. It’s no secret that many people watch the “big game” for the commercials, which are typically a mix of weird, witty, and heartwarming. This year, though, the standard selection was punctuated by the worst possible sin in broadcast media — dead air. For a full 30-second segment, NBC broadcast a blank screen.

Fans were confused, then perplexed, then frustrated. Cable boxes went on and off. WiFi connections were checked in millions of homes. Hapless party guests were hit with accusations of “touching some button.” Millions, of course, poured onto social media with questions and concerns. Even after the broadcast picked back up – without any explanation of the blackout – people were still online discussing what did, or, more specifically, didn’t, happen.

Eventually, NBC released a statement saying they didn’t know what happened and were investigating. Later, they released an explanation: “We had a brief equipment failure that we quickly resolved… No action or commercial time was missed…”

While that might be exactly what happened, fans weren’t buying it. For a game this big, why weren’t there redundancies in place in the case of “equipment failure.” Fans continued to sneer at NBC, saying they must have lost millions for the misfire. NBC countered that the only thing that didn’t air were its own network promos.

Then came the memes. Countless viewers declared the blank screen the “best commercial of the night” or “the best part of the game” and those social media posts took on a life of their own. As of this writing, they are still being shared… And the speculation continues.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.
Ronn Torossian and Mazen Dayem

Ronn Torossian CEO of 5WPR with Mazen Dayem

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