Networks Clash Over First-Ever Super Bowl

Super Bowl I Vince Lombardi
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CBS VS. NBC May Be Bigger Than Game

If election nights represent to the tv networks a kind of World Series of tv news, then the two-network carry this Sunday (15) of the professional football Super Bowl game can only represent to DBS and NBC their own Super Bowl of tv sports. In certain respects, for the two webs involved, there’s about as much riding on this single three-and-a-half hour event as on a whole season of primetime.

That would seem to be reflected in the ultra-heavy and aggressive promotion each is giving the Sunday afternoon contest, as if all too aware that the “dream game” of the sports buffs could easily turn into a nightmare for one of the networks covering it.

The rivalry in network television, with only three teams in the league, is more gigantic and fierce than any on the football field, and it’s especially tense this season between the two webs that will be bucking each other over this game. They will carry the identical video picture (fed by a CBS crew) but will have separate audio commentary and color, which means that there is only the viewing habit from the regular football season, the reputation of the network and perhaps the special appeal of the commentators to influence the way the Nielsen digits will fall.

For intrigue and lasting consequence, the tv webs’ own super bowl may well outclass the one they’ll have on the picture tube.

On the gridiron, the favored Green Bay Packers of the National Football League need to top the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs by only one point to win the money and all the glory. Each winning player could then collect his $15,000 share of the pot and knock off for the year with all his pride and prestige intact. It doesn’t work quite that way in the tv version of the game.

Win, You Lose

If video’s odds-on favorite, CBSTV, should beat NBC by a single rating point, or even two or three —it loses. More than a loss, it would be a disaster, for CBS has to finish five Nielsen points ahead to be a winner.

Although both networks have paid the same $1,000,000 for the right to televise the Super Bowl simultaneously, the CBS rates for minute participations range $10- $20,000 higher than NBC’s. That’s on the basis of its being the resident network for the NPL which over the season has outdrawn the AFL on NBC 2 to 1. (The season average is a 15.8 rating for CBS and an 8.0 for NBC.) The big viewing habit for pro football has been with Columbia, and that’s figured to carry over to this first-ever, two league championship game.

At least it’s figured so by CBS, whose $85,000 a minute top is in effect asking the Madison Ave. bettors to lay NBC and five Nielsen points for an equivalent cost per thousand. The game is expected to draw an aggregate 20,400,000 homes, or a minimum 37 combined rating. On the basis of its rates, and to preserve the prestige of the NFL package, CBS must beat NBC by at least 2,000,000 homes. In Nielsen shorthand, assuming the expected tune in, it would have to pull a 21 rating against a 16 for NBC. Anything less than that would be an embarrassment, anything more a smashing victory that would shine prestige upon the network and make next year’s NFL season an easier sell.

Values at Stake

At stake, then, is the valuation of the two football packages and the ability of the webs to command fancy rates for them, but the big prize in this head-on clash is really pride. For NBC to embarrass CBS is a thing in and of itself, forgetting the dollar values that might accrue. Similarly, for CBS to crush and humble NBC would be especially sweet in a season when the latter has moved to the front in the nighttime Nielsen stakes.

While a win for either network may have little direct effect on its profits from football, a big loss for either could be severely damaging on the money front. An NBC upset would be another blow to CBSTV’s huge investment in the biggest sports attraction of them all (as the merger of the two leagues was earlier this year) and doubtless would make the NFL season spread a harder sell next year at this year’s prices. And a crushing victory by CBS over NBC would revert the AFL games back to what they used to be before the merger, a third-rate package exceeded as tv merchandise even by

ABC’s NCAA college games.

Until the big confrontation four days hence, both webs are doing whatever they can to pull the Nielsens their way. Each has set a pre-game sports special to provide that crucial lead-in—CBS a 90- minute exhibition of the Harlem Globetrotters starting at 2 p.m. and NBC a football bull session with top grid names of both leagues (plus film clips), starting at 2:30. For headliners, it’ll have Jimmy Brown and Johnny Unitas. The web had sought to debut Sandy Koufax as an NBC contract personality in this opus, but the retired baseball super star sagely begged off, noting he’d be out of his element.

The pre-game shows figure to be highly profitable, but they’ll run into some stiff competition from ABC-TV’s pro basketball telecast between two hot teams, Philadelphia and Boston, the most attracting pairing in the NBA this season. ABC’s game starts at 2 p.m. and should last beyond the start of the football game at 4 p.m. Thus, ABC stands to be a beneficiary of the big sports tunein that day for the Super Bowl game.

Until the CBS-NBC clash actually takes place, the battle is being fought with promotional artillery, each web having to lay it on if only to balance off his opponent. For more than a week the Super Bowl has dominated the major on-air promo spots, and as the days dwindle down to Sunday there’ll be precious few available to plug any other program on the schedule.

NBC is putting strong promotional accent on its play-and-color team of Paul Cristman and Curt Gowdy, hoping to build them as a Huntley-Brinkley of sports and thereby gain an edge on the Super Bowl tune in. By nature of their having called most of the big AFL games this year, in addition to NBC’s college bowl games, they’ve had more consistent national exposure than their CBS counterparts, Pat Summerall and Frank Gifford. CBS has used regional commentators for its NFL regular season telecasts.

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