NBC Moves to Trump CBS’ Ad Prices for ‘Thursday Night Football’ (EXCLUSIVE)

NBC Moves To Beat CBS' Ad Prices for 'Thursday Night Football'
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

 NBC thinks it deserves a holiday bonus for running “Thursday Night Football.”

The Peacock is making the case to advertisers that it should get a premium over what CBS is charging for its own Thursday-night package of NFL games, according to people familiar with the situation. Are NBC’s games and match-ups any better than its counterparts? Not in the view of media buyers who survey TV sports, but NBC feels its request is justified because its Thursday-night games air much closer to the holiday season, when the need for various sponsors to get their promotional messages out on TV becomes more intense.

If NBC is to be believed, however, some Thursday-night football games are better than others – even if the NFL, which this year is splitting a package of the games between CBS and NBC for the first time, tried to schedule match-ups that had equal appeal.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake, with both networks seeking between $550,000 and $590,000 for a 30-second spot, according to people familiar with the tone of discussions, though NBC is suggesting that CBS’ games should not have the same price tag as its own.

Whether or not NBC gets its premium remains to be seen. “Both CBS and NBC have decent markets represented on their schedules,” noted Jeremy Carey, managing director at Optimum Sports, a sports-media buyer operated by Omnicom Group. “A lot can happen between now and Week 11, when NBC’s Thursday night schedule kicks in, making performance difficult to predict.”

The sharp elbows come as the NFL tests a new approach to its Thursday-night games. CBS had exclusive rights to run an eight-game package for two seasons, with other games that night airing on the League’s own NFL Network. Now, CBS and NBC each have rights to air five games each, for which they are each believed to be paying $225 million.

The NFL wants to gain maximum exposure for the Thursday-night games, which in the past were relegated to NFL Network. Despite a more unwieldy structure this season, the League believes viewers will follow the games when they move from CBS to NBC, said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, in an interview earlier this year with Variety. “When we did ‘Thursday Night Football’ with CBS, where we put half the games on CBS and half on the NFL Network, what we saw that consumption on both platforms went up,” he explained. “People will find it.”

The NFL declined to make executives available for comment.

CBS deliberately picked a package of games that aired earlier in the TV season. “It was important for us to get the games at the beginning to have the opportunity to launch our primetime schedule,” said Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, in an interview with Variety in February.

NBC may be on to something. Ad buyers expect NBC’s “Thursday Night Football” package to generate higher ad viewership than CBS’, according to Variety’s annual survey of commercial ratings for the TV season. A survey of three top ad-buying firms shows Madison Avenue expects NBC’s games to generate an average commercial rating of 6.22 this season among viewers between 18 and 49, compared with an average commercial rating of 5.74 for CBS. One factor in the projections, said one of the people familiar with the ad discussions, could be the fact that ad buyers are using CBS ratings from last season in devising estimates, while having no past foundation for NBC’s coming broadcasts.

Commercial ratings, also known in the industry as “C3,”measure the average viewership of a commercial break for up to three days after it initially airs. A single 18-to-49 ratings point in the current season is equivalent to approximately 1,268,100 viewers, according to Nielsen. The games are simulcast on NFL Network, and the ratings guarantees are typically based on both airings.

The maneuver marks another aggressive play in the TV-ad market by NBCUniversal. The company has for several years fought to regain pricing power among its TV peers after a long period of lackluster primetime programming at its flagship broadcast network crimped its ability to command rate increases from Madison Avenue. In the recently completed “upfront” market, when TV networks attempt to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season, NBCU sought some of the highest increases in the rate of reaching 1,000 viewers – a measure known as a CPM that is integral to discussions with advertisers. As a result, NBC was the last of the broadcast networks to close its sales process, and had to tangle with resistance from media buyers.

Both networks are seeking significant increases over what the Thursday-night games brought last season. A 30-second spot in CBS’ package of games in 2015 went for an average of $462,222, according to Variety’s annual survey of TV ad prices.

The NFL has taken pains to ensure viewers get as seamless a presentation as possible. Toyota Motors’ Lexus has signed on to sponsor halftime on the Thursday-night games, no matter on which of the three networks they air. Anheuser-Busch is the presenting sponsor of the games across three networks as well, all part of an effort to raise awareness of Bud Light among younger viewers of drinking age.