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Ebersol: PPV football’s future

While all eyes were on this Sunday’s Super Bowl during yesterday’s Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol took a moment to look ahead to a world of pro football pay-per-view.

Although ABC’s pay-per-view regional college football coverage was by no means a major success, Ebersol predicted that pro football could eventually employ a similar tactic–with viewers able to watch other games if they don’t like the one being served up in their local market.

Flanked by the NBC broadcast team for this Sunday’s game, Ebersol said such a system, while several years away, could theoretically involve a sort-of “season ticket” pay-per-view option where the National Football League would keep proceeds from those sales and a network would receive credit for the extra rating points it would likely generate.

It isn’t definite whether the ABC college football experiment will be repeated. The concept prompted initial objections by some affiliates on the grounds that it might diffuse their local ratings, although that loss failed to materialize.

Still, any efforts to make exclusive broadcast properties available on cable is invariably viewed with suspicion by local broadcasters.

All three networks have lost money on their existing NFL contracts (CBS with the National Football Conference, NBC with the AFC, ABC on “Monday Night Football”) and have pledged that they will pursue greater austerity when those contracts come up for renegotiation later this year.

As for more immediate concerns, NBC is hoping this year’s Super Bowl–being sold at $ 800,000 to $ 850,000 per 30-second spot–will wake up its slumbering prime time lineup and provide a boost to several new series that will join the schedule over the next few weeks, beginning with “Homicide: Life On the Streets, ” which premieres after the game.

As it stands right now, NBC will have to hustle a bit just to win the current week, running a distant third in the Nielsen standings through Wednesday.

CBS and ABC each posted a 36.6 rating, 55 share in prime time for the Sundays they aired the Super Bowl in 1992 and ’91, respectively, which should be enough to give the Peacock network this week’s Nielsen crown–its first victory in 19 outings this season.

The network estimates an audience of more than 100 million viewers for the game.

The most-watched Super Bowl by that measure was Chicago-New England in 1986, which attracted 127 million viewers, though the highest-rated contest in terms of households was Super Bowl XVI, pitting San Francisco against Cincinnati.

According to NBC research, nine of the top 10 all-time broadcasts in terms of total viewers have been Super Bowls, the lone exception being the 2 1/2-hour final episode of “MASH” in 1983.

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