By Barry Janoff
February 2, 2016: The new deal unveiled by the NFL this week for its Thursday Night Football broadcast package was good for the league, good for NBC, good for the NFL Network but not everything that CBS wanted.
"It became evident early on in the negotiations that the NFL was going to split the (Thursday Night Football) network package. They saw value in having two big media companies carry the games, not just one," Sean McManus, chairman for CBS Sports (pictured below), said during a media conference call on Tuesday (Feb. 2) in conjunction with the network's broadcast of Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.
"It would have been nice to return with all eight games, but that is not what the NFL wanted," said McManus.
The NFL launched Thursday Night Football in 2006 with an eight-game schedule exclusively on NFL Network.
In 2014, CBS signed a two-season deal with the NFL to air eight Thursday Night Football games, simulcast on NFL Network, as part of an expanded 16-game schedule in which NFL Network had exclusive broadcast rights to the latter eight games.
When the deal expired following the 2015 regular season, the NFL solicited bids not just from CBS but also from other media partners, including NBC and Fox, as well as Turner Sports. ESPN did not bid, according to industry analysts.
According to McManus, when the split package with NBC was being negotiated, "What (CBS) wanted was to retain the the rights to our games, to have them in the first half of the season so that we would showcase and promote our new season and shows and also to make a deal that made sense financial to us.
"We got that. We feel that it's a responsible deal financially.," said McManus. "Broadcasting the first half of the Thursday Night Football schedule is a terrific way to jump start the 2016-17 television season."
Although financial details were not disclosed, industry analysts put the figure at $900 million combined for CBS and NBC over the two seasons of the alliance.
The new deal, which covers the 2016 and 2017 seasons, will see the package grow from eight broadcast games to ten broadcasts,the first five on CBS (which loses three games) and the second five on new Thursday Night Football partner NBC.
As before, all Thursday Night Football broadcast games would continue to be simulcast on NFL Network.
NFL Network also retains exclusive broadcast rights to an eight-game package, to air following the ten on CBS and NBC.
Under a separate Sunday Night Football deal, NBC will also air two additional games on Thursday night: the NFL Kickoff Game (Sept. 8) and a game on Thanksgiving Day evening (Nov. 24).
"We are continuing to make Thursday Night Football bigger and better," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during a media event when the new package was unveiled on Monday (Feb. 1), to coincide with Super Bowl 50 activities. "CBS has played an integral role over the last two seasons in helping build Thursdays as a night for NFL football, and we're excited to have them on board again.
"At the same time, we're thrilled to add NBC to the Thursday Night Football mix, a trusted partner with a proven track record of success broadcasting NFL football in primetime, and look forward to expanding with a digital partner for what will be a unique tri-cast on broadcast, cable, and digital platforms.," said Goodell.
For the 16 games of the 2015 schedule, Thursday Night Football on CBS and NFL Network (and over-the-air stations) averaged a 7.9 HH rating and 13 million viewers, up 59% and 61%, respectively, from 2013 when the games were solely on NFL Network, according to the NFL, which said that the 2015 season was the most-watched and highest-rated Thursday Night Football season ever.
"Thursday Night Football has provided extremely valuable programming and a powerful promotional platform to help launch CBS' primetime schedule, contributing to our standing as the perennial No. 1 and most-watched network," said Moonves.
"It became evident early on that the NFL was going to split the TNF network package. They saw value in having two big media companies carry the games."
The NFL also said it is in "active discussions with prospective digital partners for OTT streaming rights to Thursday Night Football" and that a deal announcement is "expected in the near future."
According to Robert Kraft, chairman for the NFL's Broadcast Committee (and majority owner for the New England Patriots), "Our mission when we first put games on Thursday nights in 2006 was to work strategically to make Thursdays a night for NFL football in the mold of what Monday and Sunday nights mean to millions of fans across the country.
"We've made great strides since that point, and growing the base of games with CBS, now with NBC, and soon with digital streaming will only help us solidify this night in the consciousness of NFL fans here and globally," said Kraft.
This past season, the NFL on CBS recorded its highest rating in 29 years, averaging 19.1 million viewers; while Fox's NFL games surpassed 20.7 viewers on average, its second-best total ever.
NBC's Sunday Night Football package averaged some 22.5 million viewers, its top showing ever, en route to becoming the No. 1 prime-time show on TV for the fifth consecutive season, according to the NFL.
"The NFL has the most powerful programming on television, and we are delighted to expand our primetime schedule to 24 regular season games," Steve Burke, CEO, for NBC Universal, said when the deal was unveiled. "Thursday Night Football is an important addition to NBC's No. 1 ranked primetime lineup, and the perfect complement to our award winning Sunday Night Football broadcast.
"The NFL is a terrific partner, and we could not be more pleased about expanding our relationship," said Burke.
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