Think about it this way: If Justin Timberlake hadn’t partially exposed one of Janet Jackson’s nipples during that fateful Super Bowl halftime show, you wouldn’t be able to watch all the nipples you’d like on your computer today.
10 years ago, Timberlake’s promise to “have you naked by the end of this song” as he snatched off a piece of Jackson’s bustier was the blink-and-you-missed-it highlight of the game. The FCC received 540,000 complaints about the incident, more than any other event in TV history. The so-called Nipplegate resulted in a censorship ruling that went to the Supreme Court, ruined MTV’s relationship with the NFL, and made one career while unfairly ruining another.
But the nip slip was more than a cautionary tale for producers of live television or fodder for anti-obscenity watchdogs. It made at least two companies realise that when there was a “slip” of any sort on TV, people would want to watch it again and again and again. And again and again.
A single nipple on air for 9/16th of a second — 9/16th! — ended up dramatically transforming how we see and share video. It not only cemented TiVo’s market dominance, it also provided the inspiration for YouTube, according to ESPN Magazine:
Of course, our children and our children’s children will never need to dig up an actual time capsule to find out about the wardrobe malfunction. As soon as they hear about the time Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed on live TV, they’ll watch it online. And the reason they’ll watch it online is that in 2004, Jawed Karim, then a 25-year-old Silicon Valley whiz kid, decided he wanted to make it easier to find the Jackson clip and other in-demand videos. A year later, he and a couple of friends founded YouTube, the largest video-sharing site of all time.
Across the web, the moment went viral, back when that phenomenon was still somewhat novel. (Facebook was launched three days after the halftime show.) “Janet Jackson” became the most searched term and image in Internet history. And “we put TiVo on the map,” says MTV producer Coletti — TiVo enrolled 35,000 new customers in the aftermath of Nipplegate. When Coletti was having trouble with his service, he let slip to a customer service rep that he was the guy who produced the Super Bowl halftime show. TiVo gave him lifetime service and a special number to call in case he had any trouble.
While a wardrobe malfunction is highly unlikely at today’s game — although the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are not exactly known for their modesty — a weather malfunction is totally possible since the musicians will have to perform in near-freezing temperatures. Which could lead to a different sort of prominent nipple at this year’s show.