SBJ/August 14 - 20, 2006/This Weeks News
Nets ready to take on ‘Sunday Night Football’
Published August 14, 2006
ESPN and CBS will ramp up their Sunday-night programming lineups this fall to take on NBC’s new “Sunday Night Football” franchise. Meanwhile, Fox and ABC are planning few changes with their prime-time Sunday lineups.
The counterprogramming strategies are important for these networks, especially after considering NBC’s successful debut Aug. 6. The Hall of Fame Game scored a 6.8 rating and was the week’s top-rated show in the 18- to 49-year-old demo.
ESPN is countering NBC’s NFL action with a strong sports lineup. Its Sunday-night schedule includes three September baseball games, three NBA games in November and two college football bowl games in December. The other weeks will be filled with college football and basketball games.
“You don’t need to just move aside,” said David Berson, ESPN’s senior vice president of program planning and development. “Fans nowadays are accustomed to viewing multiple things.”
CBS, meanwhile, is moving two of its more popular prime-time series to Sunday nights: “Amazing Race” (which averaged a 5.7 rating last season) and “Without a Trace” (12.4). It will keep “Cold Case” (9.4) on Sunday nights to round out the schedule.
ABC will continue to feature the hit show “Desperate Housewives” sandwiched between “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and newcomer “Brothers and Sisters,” starring Calista Flockhart.
Fox is not planning any changes to its comedy block, which features “The Simpsons,” “American Dad,” “Family Guy” and “The War at Home.”
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol thinks this year’s flexible schedule, which guarantees NBC strong matchups in December, will help drive ratings. At an industry event last month, he said Monday-night mismatches at the end of last season cost ABC “about 5 or 6 percent of their rating for the year.”
ESPN’s counterprogramming strategy is a stark contrast to its programming decisions last year. When its sister network, ABC, carried “Monday Night Football,” ESPN programmed nonfootball sports, such as figure skating and fishing.
Last year, ESPN2 had Sunday-night baseball games opposite ESPN’s NFL.
ESPN hasn’t decided which baseball games it will telecast on Sunday nights in September, but Berson pointed to some marquee matchups (Cubs-Braves on Sept. 10 and Red Sox-Yankees on Sept. 17) as likely choices. On Oct. 1, ESPN will roll out an expanded “Baseball Tonight.”