Last month, with news of a lucrative offering to the highest bidder, the NFL created a buzz with an all-new Thursday Night Football package for the 2014 regular season. Although NBC was believed to be the forerunner, it was CBS who emerged victorious. Naturally, CBS wins more than bragging rights with the NFL Thursday Night Package; the monopolization of viewers complicates the fall television lineup for every other network.
Since its conception in 2006, Thursday Night Football (TNF) has remained a weeknight niche exclusively carved out by the NFL Network. Thus, the opportunity for rights to TNF is extremely attractive for any network, especially those with lackluster Thursday night ratings. For example, NBC has struggled to compete with the already successful Thursday night CBS programming, which includes ratings monolith, The Big Bang Theory. Alternately, many speculate on what effect the displacement will have on the success of shows that already reside on CBS Thursday, such as Big Bang. Disappointing as it is for fans of the show, new episodes will be pushed back until November to negate conflict with Thursday Night Football. Thereafter, CBS will likely broadcast Big Bang on a delayed schedule, or just move it to another night.
Although the NFL Package complicates the CBS network’s own fall lineup, the inconvenience is minor and CBS still wins as they gain viewership. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the other networks that lost out on the NFL package, such as NBC, ABC (ESPN), Fox and Turner Sports. Realistically, CBS has less cause for concern than their competitors, who have more to lose: viewers. In addition to NBC, ABC will likely be affected as well via their interest in ESPN. Although it relies on the quality of the matchups (as does TNF) ESPN has seen success with their Thursday Prime Time Showcases of college football. Given the option of watching NFL Thursday Night Football, viewers may stray away from ESPN in favor of CBS.
Naturally, all of the big four networks had skin in the game that depended on winning the bid for Thursday Night Football. However, another common thread the networks shared was in that each of them was looking to double-dip with respect to NFL rights. Fox has the wildly popular NFC, NFL Sunday and CBS has the AFC; NBC has Sunday Night Football; and, ESPN (ABC) owns Monday. The fifth network in all of this, Turner Sports, is the only participant who does not currently have any NFL broadcasting privileges. Therefore, it is safe to say, they undoubtedly had the most to gain had they submitted the highest bid.
Although CBS has been touted as the big winner, the good fortune gained by the NFL cannot be ignored. The NFL intends to work with CBS to create for Thursday Night Football what the NFL Network was never able to materialize: a consistent viewership. Thursday Night Football on NFL Network is not able to reach as great an audience as CBS, being that it is a premium cable station. Additionally, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell noted that the deal would make TNF football available to many more people who previously had no access; therefore, widening the net to more viewers. Finally, it is clear that CBS wins with the NFL Thursday Night Package for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, regardless of whether it complicates the fall lineup for their network or for any others.
By Chavala Trigg