What TV looked like before the Super Bowl

It's been 50 years since the NFL and the AFL squared off against each other on TV for the first time — and the medium could hardly have changed more

The Super Bowl revolutionized many aspects of television and commercials.
(Image credit: AP Photo/File)

In an era of ever-increasing media fragmentation, the Super Bowl is the rare TV event that touches pretty much everyone — a category it shares almost exclusively with awards shows, other sports championships, and Grease Live!. A 2014 Nielsen study reported the average television viewer has access to over 189 channels and recent findings from Deloitte further scramble the calculus for traditional engagement. With more than 110 million people poised to tune into the upcoming Super Bowl 50, the game's long-standing domination serves as an outlier as entertainment platforms continue to expand.

Of course, the so-called "Golden Super Bowl" isn't merely a way to unify a diverse, sophisticated viewing audience. It's an industry onto itself. "Super Bowl Sunday" defines a whole season in American culture, affecting the entire U.S. economy in surprising ways. It's the second largest day of eating, behind Thanksgiving but ahead of Christmas. And the ratings, which are always massive, somehow continue to rise; last year's Big Game overtook the final episode of M*A*S*H as the highest single rated program in television history.

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Andy Hoglund is a contributor to Vice, The Daily Beast and Newsweek, as well as a member of the Boston Online Film Critics Association. He works as a public relations executive at Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.