The NFL’s surprising decision to add five live games to NFL Network puts the kibosh on any new TV package for the foreseeable future, according to several sources.
Executives with ESPN, Turner and NBC Sports Network had expected to start bidding on a package of eight Thursday night games at some point this year. Such a package could bring in as much as $700 million a year to the league.
But the NFL decided to increase NFL Network’s schedule to 13 games starting next season, and that new schedule of games essentially took the bulk of a package for which network executives expected to compete.
Several sources say they don’t expect the league to make any new TV package available until it expands the schedule to 18 games, a move that still is years away, if it comes at all.
The NFL has no plans to expand the schedule beyond 16 games. The NFL can’t act unilaterally on such a move; the NFL Players Association would have to agree with any increase. So far, the NFLPA has opposed any plan for an 18-game schedule.
Steve Bornstein, NFL Network’s executive vice president of media, said the move to add games to NFL Network makes sense, and stressed that the NFL had not been shopping any new TV package.
“We’ve never talked about it,” he said. “You’ve never heard the commissioner of the National Football League, any owner or any executive in the media group talk about it.”
But the TV networks were preparing for a bidding process and, internally, had been trying to place a value on how much a package of eight Thursday night games would be worth.
Bornstein cited two main reasons why the league decided to increase NFL Network’s live game schedule from eight to 13.
First, he believes the added games will help convince Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to begin carrying the channel.
NFL Network is in 59 million homes, according to the most recent numbers from Nielsen. By comparison, MLB Network is in 68 million homes, and NBA TV is in 59 million. But the eight-year-old NFL Network has never been able to reach an agreement with two of the five biggest cable operators, who have more than 15 million basic video subscribers combined. Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have balked over price; NFL Network costs 84 cents per subscriber per month, which makes it the fourth-most-expensive channel, according to figures from SNL Kagan. The two also have clashed over digital rights.
“We’re hopeful with putting 13 games on there, plus all the other programming commitments that we make to the network, that we can convince those two guys to come on board,” Bornstein said. “We renew every distribution deal that comes up. There’s a reason why: because it works for the cable operator. It works for the fan.”
The NFL was close to a deal with Time Warner Cable this fall, but talks broke down at the 11th hour, sources said. Cablevision declined comment and Time Warner Cable said “there are no active negotiations at this time.”
Secondly, Bornstein feels the added games will help the NFL test the popularity of action on Thursday nights.
“We also like to see if ‘Thursday Night Football’ will be a phenomenon that our fans will support and like,” Bornstein said. “It seemed to us to be a logical extension to start it much earlier in the season to see if we can develop a package that makes sense on Thursday nights throughout the season.”
The network’s current Thursday night package has proved to be popular on television, setting record-high viewership figures for the past three seasons. Last season, its live games averaged a 3.6 U.S. rating and 6.188 million viewers, up 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from 2010.
But there’s still room for the Thursday night package to grow. By comparison, ESPN averaged an 8.4 U.S. rating and 13.3 million viewers for its 17 “Monday Night Football” telecasts last season, both figures down from last year.
The NFL will take the games from Sunday afternoon broadcasters Fox and CBS. The added inventory would be non-marquee games that were most likely to be regionalized. The NFL wants to give those games a national audience.
XLVI sets viewership record, places sixth among Super Bowls
NBC earned a 47.0 Nielsen rating and 111.3 million viewers for its Super Bowl XLVI broadcast, from 6:31 p.m. to 9:58 p.m. ET, making the game the most-viewed program in U.S. television history.
This marks the seventh straight year the Super Bowl has seen a growth in viewership and the third straight year the game has set a new U.S. viewership record. In addition, this year's Giants-Patriots game stands as the sixth-highest-rated Super Bowl, best since Super Bowl XX in 1986, and the 12th-highest-rated telecast in U.S. TV history. The series finale of "M.A.S.H." in 1983, when the U.S. TV universe was around 83.3 million homes, remains the highest-rated program ever, with a 60.2 rating (106.0 million viewers).
The 2012 Super Bowl was broadcast to an estimated 114.7 million U.S. TV homes. The highest-rated Super Bowl of all time remains the San Francisco-Cincinnati matchup of 1982, which earned a 49.1 rating. This year's game also earned the highest Super Bowl rating in the adult 18-49 demo in 15 years.
The Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna averaged a 47.4 rating and 114.0 million viewers from 8-8:30 p.m., marking the most-viewed Super Bowl halftime show featuring entertainment ever (records dating back to 1991).
— Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily
|MOST-VIEWED U.S. TV PROGRAMS|
|2012||Super Bowl XLVI: N.Y. Giants-New England||NBC||47.0||111,300|
|2011||Super Bowl XLV: Green Bay-Pittsburgh||Fox||46.1||111,000|
|2010||Super Bowl XLIV: New Orleans-Indianapolis||CBS||45.0||106,500|
|2009||Super Bowl XLIII: Pittsburgh-Arizona||NBC||42.0||98,700|
|HIGHEST-RATED SUPER BOWLS|
|YEAR||SUPER BOWL||NET||AVG. RATING||VIEWERS
|2012||XLVI||NBC||47.0||111,300||N.Y. Giants-New England|