By Barry Janoff
January 18, 2015: After declaring that its first season of airing NFL Thursday Night Football was a resounding success, CBS was determined to return for a second year, which was at the option of the league, even as other networks were seeking to obtain the programming rights.
The network did exactly that, signing on to continue with Thursday Night Football for the 2015 season, with an option again at the league's discretion to return for 2016.
The deal, in addition to CBS' Sunday NFL programming, will lead to the network's broadcast of the historic Super Bowl 50, scheduled for Feb. 7, 2016, in Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“The benefits of Thursday Night Football are evident across our corporation, including a strengthened primetime lineup that has built on its No. 1 position,” Leslie Moonves, president and CEO for CBS Corp., said in a statement. “The NFL continues to be the best premium content in the business, and we look forward to another year of our expanded partnership in 2015-2016, a season that will culminate with Super Bowl 50 on CBS.”
Similar to last season, CBS will produce Thursday Night Football for 2015, with the first eight games again to be simulcast on NFL Network. NFL Network then get exclusive broadcast rights to the eight games leading up to the playoffs.
CBS will have its lead broadcasters and production team on all Thursday night games. The pre-game, halftime and post-game shows will continue to feature NFL Network and CBS Sports hosts and analysts.
The mix of games will include 14 on Thursday nights and two late-season games on Saturday.
Fox, NBC and ESPN also had interest in acquiring the Thursday Night Football games for 2015.
Entering its 56th season of NFL programming, CBS said the Thursday Night Football pact would expand to include such elements as "the development of new programming initiatives across the various CBS and NFL platforms."
A supporting multi-media marketing platform is also expected to build on last's year's effort, which generated the most promotion in the network's history, according to Sean McManus, chairman for CBS Sports.
In 2014, for its initial season of Thursday Night Football, CBS began to marketing the package in February, with spots that included stars from such CBS Network shows as NCIS, The Big Bang Theory, Person Of Interest, Elementary and NCIS LA.
"Even when there were blowouts, the numbers were still strong," McManus said last year following the conclusion of CBS' Thursday Night Football package. "In some cases, the ratings were triple what CBS did on Thursday night (the previous) year."
The opening game, which featured the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Baltimore Ravens, attracted 20.6 million viewers, according to CBS. The final game, the San Diego Chargers at the Denver Broncos, attracted 20 million viewers and was the highest-rated and most-watch primetime program for the week of Oct. 20-26.
"We set a number of goals, and No. 1 was to establish Thursday Night Football as an NFL destination and that has worked very well for us," said McManus. "It really all comes down to the quality of your content."
According to NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell, “We are pleased to extend our partnership with CBS for Thursday Night Football. The promotion and production by CBS and NFL Network last season made Thursday night a night for NFL football. We look forward to working again next season with CBS.”
The Thursday Night Football season opener on CBS came with its share of off the field drama. The game between the Steelers and Ravens aired as the NFL was being enveloped in a storm regarding domestic violence, and the planned pre-game theme song featuring Rihanna's version of Jay-Z's, "Run This Town," was dropped.
Rihanna had been involved in a tumultuous relationship with then boyfriend Chris Brown, including a 2009 confrontation in which Brown pled guilty to felony assault. CBS replaced the song and a voiceover from actor Don Cheadle with a news story updating the domestic violence situation among Ray Rice, his wife and the NFL.
None of which impacted the programming in a negative way.
"Even the worst NFL blowout gets better ratings than pretty much anything else out there," said McManus. "Our goals were lofty and we met them."
CBS Says First Year Of NFL Thursday Night Football Was A Touchdown
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