CBS used last night’s Super Bowl to get down to business.
Where most TV networks hosting the game tend to focus heavily on the promotion of individual shows and goose interest in big-bet programs that are slated for release in coming weeks, CBS used its broadcast of Super Bowl 50 to expand viewers’ notions of what a TV network does and also drop a little surprise.
The network had approximately five minutes of time to promote its own stuff, noted George Schweitzer, president of marketing at CBS, in an interview. A decent chunk of that allotment — three different promotions — was used to push the notion to viewers of watching the company’s TV programs in new ways. CBS ran a sultry promo for its “All Access” subscription-on-demand service; an ad for Showtime’s streaming service (with music by Sia); and an overall “brand” spot telling the audience that CBS is available “now, then, and all ways” – a clear nod to the fact that more fans of video programming can get that sort of thing on tablets and video-on-demand services.
“Over 100 million people were watching. It’s a safe bet that some of those people don’t watch us regularly,” said Schweitzer, who has supervised CBS’ marketing efforts for years. “We wanted to make big statements.”
One of those declarations came as a shock. CBS announced that Sunday-night drama “The Good Wife” would end after just nine more episodes. While producers Robert and Michelle King had already announced their intention to leave the series at the end of this season, there had been speculation the series would continue under a new showrunner.
Instead, said Schweitzer, only a select number of CBS executives were aware of the series’ true fate, and decided to pay tribute to it – and try to get more audience for its last sprint to the finish line – with a Super Bowl promo packed with the surprise news of its coming end. “Let’s turn this into an event” was the thinking behind the idea, said Schweitzer. “We hope more viewers will come to the end of the show.”
Other networks have used the Super Bowl to call attention to the future. In 2011, for example, Fox used its broadcast of Super Bowl XLV to run sneak previews for “The X-Factor,” a competition program the network hoped would be the next “American Idol,” and “Terra Nova,” a special-effects laden sci-fi series centered on a family that travels back in time to escape an environmental apocalypse in the future.
Not CBS, which offered no looks at series slated to come this summer or next fall. The network chose to focus its show advertising on its coming broadcast of the Grammys; its late-night shows, each of which aired a special episode last night; a spot for the coming debut of a spin-off of “Criminal Minds”; and series currently on air. Schweitzer acknowledged that not every program in the CBS lineup got a nod during the game, but all series were highlighted over the course of the day, he said, which included several hours of pre-game programming.
The most important focus, said Schweitzer, was on new lines of business: the CBS and Showtime streaming ventures. “It was the first time we’ve done that kind of thing in a major sports event,” he said. “There are future subscriber opportunities. It was very important to get the word out.”
Schweitzer and his team have surprised legions of Super Bowl viewers in the past. CBS suggested what power a TV-network promo could have during Super Bowl broadcasts in 2007 and 2010, each time showing David Letterman watching the event in two distinctive promos. In the first, the late-night host shared a couch with Oprah Winfrey, and then, later, with Winfrey and Jay Leno, right after Letterman had called into question Leno’s decision to return to NBC’s “Tonight Show,” bumping Conan O’Brien out in the process.