Moonves took part in a Television Critics Assn. press tour session on Thursday to tubthump the eight games coming to CBS’ Thursday lineup starting in September. CBS demonstrated the importance of the Thursday launch to the NFL by also having league commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the panel alongside CBS Sports chief Sean McManus.
“This is a sure thing,” Moonves told reporters in touting the benefits of the package to CBS’ primetime fortunes. Goodell emphasized that seeding an appetite for Thursday primetime games has been a priority for the past eight years on the NFL Network cabler. The one-year deal with CBS is a chance to build on the NFL’s commitment to broadcast TV. He called Thursday a “bookend” to the NFL’s weekend games.
“There is a tremendous demand for more football on Thursday night,” he said.
CBS is in the unusual position of having this first year be something of an audition before the league commits to a long-term Thursday rights package. “It is our job to show the NFL how great it’s going to be,” Moonves said. “We’re confident at the end of the year they’re going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job.”
Moonves said CBS would be open to the idea of expanding beyond eight games in the future. “If the NFL would like to go longer we’d certainly be interested in talking to them,” he said.
McManus enthused about the production plans for the Thursday broadcasts, which will be driven by super high-definition 4K cameras, including one with a special position dangling over the goal line. One player per game will be outfitted with a microphone for in-the-moment coverage (albeit with a delay to guard against profanities). CBS will use its A-team NFL talent, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, on the games, which are co-produced with the NFL Network.
Moonves promised that CBS talent would be enlisted to promote the Thursday package, and NFL storyline will be woven into some of the Eye’s scripted series.
Goodell and Kraft were peppered with questions about the safety of the game, given the recent focus on debilitating head injuries suffered by current and former players. And the entire panel dodged the touchy issue of the name of the Washington Redskins team and whether it should be banned from on-air use. There’s been a groundswell of protest about the name and its derogatory connotation for Native Americans.
“We don’t tell our announcers what to say on any topic,” McManus said.
Goodell was also noncommittal on the question of when Los Angeles might get another franchise after a nearly 20-year drought. Kraft, who chairs the NFL’s broadcast rights committee, was more forthcoming: “The ownership collectively is very concerned that we don’t have at least one team in L.A.”
Kraft was even open to the suggestion of a franchise in London, based on the reaction his team received when playing exhibition games in Blighty. “We should work hard on trying to have a franchise in London before the decade is out,” he said.
After the panel, Moonves was pressed for his reaction to the news that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is pursuing a takeover of Time Warner. He grinned and stuck to no comment other than to observe: “Nobody ever competes well against Rupert.”
There’s no doubt that CBS is in the market for acquisitions, though maybe not on the scale of swallowing Time Warner. But the Eye already has a good deal of cash on its books and will be even more flush by next year when the divestiture of its outdoor advertising assets is complete. For Moonves, it’s an easy equation: “We sold billboards to buy more content.”