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NBC Focuses on Football

Sunday game will be a major promo platform 6/02/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When NBC hastily reshuffled eight of its 15 weeknight prime time hours shortly after unveiling its fall schedule, the network also changed its promotional strategy.

The new Sunday Night Football franchise will become a major promotional platform for freshman shows Heroes and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which air at 9-11 p.m. ET Mondays. The move also permitted NBC to move Studio 60 out of the path of competing hits Grey’s Anatomy and CSI on Thursdays.

Shift in Strategy

The new emphasis on freshman shows is a shift in strategy. Until now, NBC has made warhorses like the Law & Order shows the backbone of its schedule, using the established series as cornerstones of individual nights.

Despite spawning an annual $1 billion-plus revenue franchise, NBC moved fabled producer Dick Wolf’s Law & Order, whose ratings have been on the decline, to 10 p.m. Fridays, making way for freshman Kidnapped at 10 p.m. Wednesdays to compete against CSI: NY on CBS.

Having a football game kick off the week represents a “huge opportunity for us,” says Mitch Metcalf, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for NBC. “Putting two new shows on Monday night, or any night, is not a first choice. But having Sunday Night Football leading into Monday made sense” since the broad football audience translates well to NBC’s mass-appeal Monday-night lead-in game show, Deal or No Deal.

Yet, as ABC discovered with Monday Night Football, there is a low carry-over rate of sports fans to entertainment programs on subsequent nights.

NBC faces additional hurdles ABC never encountered: namely, the prospect of having a majority of its Sunday Night Football viewers tune to ESPN the next day for Monday Night Football, rather than to Heroes or Studio 60.

“Using big-ticket sports like football, baseball and the Olympics to promote is no guarantee that we can launch shows successfully,” says Metcalf, “but they are still great platforms to get the shows out of the gate.”

After its big upfront presentation in New York and prior to the massive schedule revision, NBC focused on using Sunday Night Football as a way to reach the upscale viewers that have traditionally been the centerpiece of its prime time schedules.

Metcalf says the football audience “matches our schedule well,” although competitors and advertisers grouse about whether the network will be able to claim that distinction when Deal airs in the midst of its once Must-See Thursdays.

There’s also uncertainty about using L&O:Criminal Intent as a lead-in to SVU, since the latter was the highest-rated of the three franchisees this past season.

Metcalf believes the pairing will create a strong 9-11 block on Tuesdays and expresses faith in L&O. Its move to Fridays allows NBC to stick to its strategy of scheduling only established shows on a night for which it devotes little promotional or advertising resources, he says.

After announcing cast changes last week, which Wolf was working on when he got news of the schedule changes, Metcalf says he looks for the veteran series to perform strongly as it enters “another phase of its life.”

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