SBD/February 6, 2014/Media

CBS Hoping New Thursday Night NFL Package Will Be Prelude To Lengthier Deal

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CBS already was the top-rated network in the U.S. prior to landing the NFL deal
CBS' one-year contract to air eight Thursday night NFL games in '14 is "believed to be worth" at least $250M, and the network is hoping the deal "is the prelude to a lengthier one," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. CBS President & CEO Les Moonves said of landing the deal, "There is truly nothing like the NFL. You want as much as you can get. It’s the most powerful programming on the air." CBS Sports Group Chair Sean McManus said, "We’re looking at this as a long-term commitment." CBS is the top-rated network in the U.S., and NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp said, "It was important for us from the beginning to have the biggest megaphone possible." To "make room for the games, CBS will delay the start of its fall season on Thursday nights until early November." Moonves said that some of the affected series -- which include "The Big Bang Theory" at 8:00pm ET and "Elementary" at 10:00pm -- "could shift to help programming on other nights before returning to their regular time slots after the final game." CBS this season already "has a large lead with its Thursday night programming among all viewers and among men ages 18 to 49." Meanwhile, NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said of losing the bid, "We wish we had won it, but we take solace in knowing it’s a short-term deal and we’ll compete for it again" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6).

A MORE PERFECT UNION? USA TODAY's Reid Cherner writes the relationship between CBS and the NFL is a "union where both parties hope to benefit from the muscle-flexing of the other." CBS gets primetime programming "they believe will draw big numbers," and the NFL "gets more promotion via another network stream." McManus: "The thought of going up against NFL football on another network was obviously not very appealing, and the opportunity to generate the kind of numbers that the NFL is generating across the board was an opportunity that we just did not want to pass up." Rolapp said, "CBS made a compelling case on the strength of their viewership and the strength of their ratings" (USA TODAY, 2/6). In L.A., Joe Flint writes the new pact will give the NFL "a chance to dominate another night" of TV. One criticism of the Thursday package in previous years has been that the games "have not been as high-quality" as ones on Sunday, and NFL schedulers "will be under pressure to provide better matches without diluting the Sunday games" (L.A. TIMES, 2/6).

WHY MORE THURSDAYS? SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Dan Kaplan said the NFL "wanted the most exposure for Thursday night, which it's trying to build into a bigger platform. … Most people are not familiar with 'Thursday Night Football' so they're trying to create this next big platform." Kaplan said of the CBS deal being only a one-year deal, "Currently, it's on the NFL Network. That has not been as successful as they would have liked. The distribution of the channel is not great, the viewership has not been great, at least by NFL standards. They're obviously not quite sure if this is the way they want to go. They want the cash, obviously, so they're just doing a one-year deal with an option for a second year." CBS' Gayle King asked, "Will that not cannibalize the NFL Network?" Kaplan: "They've obviously made the choice that they're going to make more money by cannibalizing some of these games” ("CBS This Morning,” 2/6). CBS Sports Network's Doug Gottlieb said of the deal, "I think it'll be really good, but I'm interested in why it is being simulcast on the NFL Network. It seems to me that that will cannibalize their numbers" ("Lead Off," CBSSN, 2/5).

ROLE OF SIMMS AND NANTZ: McManus said of lead broadcast team Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, "Their priority will be Thursday." McManus: "We won’t burn out our A talent and A production teams." McManus added that Nantz and Simms "would probably get some Sundays off" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6). Nantz and Simms "will man the booth for all 16 Thursday broadcasts" despite the fact that only the first eight games will air on CBS, with the final eight on NFL Network. NFL Network talent "will handle pregame, halftime and postgame duties" (ADWEEK.com, 2/5). On Long Island, Neil Best reports Nantz and Simms "likely will be used only" on Sundays when CBS "has a big national doubleheader game" (NEWSDAY, 2/6).

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi writes CBS landing the deal is a "somewhat surprising turn of events," as NBC "was thought to be the lead dog in the hunt." Sources estimated that the winning bid "was in the neighborhood" of $275M. CBS is "arguably the only broadcaster that doesn’t necessarily need a boost on Thursday nights," which means if NBC was "stung by losing out on the bid, ABC’s cable sibling can’t be thrilled with the result, either" (ADWEEK.com, 2/5). AD AGE's Jeanine Poggi wrote CBS' win also is a "hiccup" for FS1 and NBCSN. Without many "live major sports rights in play any time soon, adding Thursday night NFL games could have been a major coup for one of the fledgling cable channels." Sanford C. Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger suggested in a research note that the deal "is a defense move" by CBS. He wrote that adding the NFL on Thursday nights "doesn't help the network's leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite carriers" because the games are simulcast on NFL Network (ADAGE.com, 2/5).

CEMENTING ITS HOLD: VARIETY's Brian Steinberg wrote CBS over the past few seasons has "built a comedy beachhead on Thursday nights that has made it a ratings powerhouse." Moonves said of whether CBS' two-hour comedy block would continue in the wake of the additional NFL games, "We’ll have to figure it out, but it’s nice to know we’re going to have that big block of football on Thursday night to open that season." Moonves said that he "expected the network to use the games to promote its entertainment lineup as well as other company projects" (VARIETY.com, 2/5). DEADLINE.com's Nellie Andreeva wrote, "No network would’ve benefited by a football boost on Thursday more than NBC, which has been struggling mightily on the night." The "promotional opportunity for the Thursday primetime football games [was] a big draw for CBS brass as they can get more eyeballs for the trailers of their new shows in the two weeks leading to the beginning of the season" (DEADLINE.com, 2/5). VARIETY's Steinberg & Kissell noted sponsors have long viewed Thursdays "as one of the best nights to influence consumer behavior for the weekends" (VARIETY.com, 2/5).

MATCHUPS ARE KEY: ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "This will be an unbelievable success. There is an unbelievable, unsatiated appetite for NFL football. ... But it depends on the schedule, and what CBS goes to the NFL and says is: 'We have been a partner for a long time. We're going to help you out here for your benefit and for our benefit, so you've got to give us better games'" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/5). The N.Y. Daily News' Bob Raissman said the CBS deal "really depends on what kind of games they get, the quality of the games, and I think they're really going give them some good games because they want this thing to succeed" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 2/5).

IGER REACTS: Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger yesterday said ESPN has "a long and very valuable and very important relationship with the NFL that results in some great games on Monday night, but also hundreds of hours of other NFL programming across not only the season but across the year. So as a company, we are thoroughly invested in the NFL. ... We made an offer for Thursday night football to put it on ABC ... and obviously it wasn't accepted. But we're very invested, as I said, in the NFL, and feel good about that investment" ("Closing Bell," CNBC, 2/6).

WHERE NFL NET GOES FROM HERE: FORBES' Tom Van Riper wrote the new package "clearly hurts the NFL Network." But sports marketing and media consultancy rEvolution Exec VP Larry Mann said that this is "secondary." Van Riper: "It just shows that Roger Goodell values his league more than his network" (FORBES.com, 2/5). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio noted the NFL with this deal has "exited the game-production business entirely." CBS will be producing "not only the games broadcast on both networks, but also the games shown exclusively on NFLN." The move "puts out of business all of the other folks who were producing the NFLN game broadcast" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 2/5).

PICKED UP PIECES: YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Edholm noted NBC will "still broadcast the season kickoff game on the first Thursday of the NFL schedule" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/5). In DC, Mark Maske notes some teams "will play multiple Thursday games." But a source said that no team "will play more than one 'short-week' Thursday game that follows a game the previous Sunday" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/6). ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert wrote the package "is a win for the league (naturally), its players and football traditionalists alike -- and it won't require much adjustment from viewers" (ESPN.com, 2/5).
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