NFL Season Starts Now For CBS Rookie

The American viewer appears to have a bottomless appetite for televised NFL, and the CBS stations are making sure fans know it’s all you can eat on eight Thursdays this fall. With CBS’ rookie prime package kicking off Sept. 11, the stations are in scramble mode to promote the games.

Stations are airing promos that see their anchors, wearing the local teams’ colors, appearing with network stars from The Big Bang Theory, Blue Bloods and NCIS, among others, playing up the Thursday Night Football brand. Peter Dunn, CBS Television Stations president, says Thursday prime is the ideal platform for advertisers. “It’s a great night of the week to get the message out,” he says, mentioning retail, auto and movies. “Anyone selling a product wants to reach consumers going into the weekend.”

The owned stations in particular are motivated to show Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president, that his investment—which Sports Business Daily pegged at $275 million—was justified. All are running the individually tailored promos, and will produce pregame shows when their local team is playing that night. The group’s West Coast stations, KPIX San Francisco and KCBS Los Angeles, will air postgame shows due to the early kickoffs.

Vikings Battle Pack

The games are mostly plum matchups: divisional rival pairings, and six of the eight feature a team from a market with an owned station. Dunn mentions spots selling for high double- and even triple-digit premiums, compared to Sunday games. Minnesota vs. Green Bay on Oct. 2, he adds, is getting over 600% more for spots than WCCO gets on a Sunday. Brien Kennedy, WCCO VP and general manager, says the so-called “Border Battle” is attracting a wider range of advertisers due to its broad appeal. “Everyone will watch it,” he says. “It’s just huge.”

The affiliated station chiefs spent much of the affiliates board’s meeting in Las Vegas last spring discussing aspects of the Thursday package, including the network-supplied promo campaign, and divvying up the costs. It’s a considerable chunk of change, especially for games that will be simulcast on NFL Network. Nonetheless, Chris Cornelius, then the affiliates board chairman, called it a “very, very good programming idea.”

Tod Smith, president and general manager of WWL New Orleans, says the hometown Saints vs. the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 30 will be one of the “premiere events” on New Orleans TV this year. “In a market as ravenous for football as New Orleans, this is real exciting for us,” he says. “This is a football-crazy town.”

With the NFL on three nights per week, time will tell if viewers start to feel overserved. But CBS local execs say the games are DVR-busting, big-tent events. “Fans love the NFL and they really love division rivalry games,” says Dunn. “And that’s what we’ve got on Thursday nights.”


WISH Indianapolis loses its CBS affiliation at year-end, but Les Vann, new VP/GM, sees opportunity amidst the tumult. Arriving in Indianapolis Aug. 25, Vann is working out WISH strategy for 2015 and beyond. “I see this as nothing but opportunity, for [parent] LIN and viewers and us to further enhance our 60-year commitment to localism,” he says. “I am all in.”

CBS announced it is moving the Indianapolis affiliation to Tribune’s WTTV. LIN and Media General reworked the terms of their merger; the affiliation switch lops as much as $110 million off the station’s value, according to Indianapolis Business Journal.

Vann, who shifted from WJCLWTGS Savannah, won’t discuss affiliation options for WISH, saying he’s focused only on the local side of the equation. That part has him energized. “I told the people here,” he says, “we’re making history.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.