Counterprogramming Super Bowl, Nets Turn to Stunts, Reruns

Alternative halftime shows, marathons and cute animals go up against the game
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Stunt counterprogramming the Super Bowl has long been a favorite tactic of small or upstart networks looking to draw attention. And at least one time it worked. Before it became an NFL broadcaster, Fox was able to syphon viewers away from CBS’ Super Bowl broadcast in 1992 with an In Living Color halftime show.

In that tradition, YouTube announced Jan. 22 that its AdBlitz channel will host a first ever live Super Bowl halftime show. Produced by Collective Digital Studio and shot at YouTube Space LA, the special will feature YouTubers such as Harley Morenstein of EpicMealTime, Freddie Wong, Rhett and Link and Toby Turner. The NFL, which recalibrated halftime shows as massive productions starring top musical acts after the In Living Color challenge (this year’s will star Katy Perry), doesn’t appear to see YouTube’s plans as a similar threat. The league said Monday that it is launching its first YouTube channel.

TV or digital, no counterprogramming will likely put even a pebble-sized dent in the Super Bowl’s dominance Feb. 1 on NBC. Last year’s broadcast on Fox drew 112.2 million total viewers and a 39.3 live plus same day Nielsen rating among adults 18-49.

In the face of numbers that massive, linear networks can either engage in goofy stunts to increase brand visibility or put up reruns and move on. The Big Four broadcasters—each now in business with the NFL or owned by a company that is—tend toward the latter. CBS did so most successfully last year with a rerun of 60 Minutes, which drew 3.5 million total viewers and a 0.4 rating according to B&C sister brand Ratings Intelligence. In the 18-49 demo, ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos rerun did the best among English-language primetime broadcasts with a 0.6. CBS’ rerun of The Good Wife was the worst at 0.3.

Cable networks, particularly those looking to better establish their brands, are more likely to go the stunt route. WGN America will do so with a 10-hour How I Met Your Mother marathon officially titled the 1st Annual We Know It's The Day Of The Big Game But Please Watch Us Anyway How I Met Your Mother Barney Bowl Marathon Sponsored by Little Caesars Pizza.

Cute animals—or at least animals easily purchased in stores—are also big on cable. This year will see the return of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl and Nat Geo Wild’s Fish Bowl. In 2014, Puppy Bowl was the king of the pet-centric counterprograms, drawing 3.3 million total viewers for its 3 p.m. Eastern pregame broadcast, followed by 1.4 million for its 5 p.m. broadcast and 563,000 for its in-game broadcast at 7 p.m. The three-hour Kitten Bowl, beginning at noon, drew 1 million viewers. Going head-to-head with the game for most of its four-hour broadcast, NatGeo Wild’s Fish Bowl—featuring footage of a goldfish in a bowl—drew 27,000 viewers.

But Super Bowl counterprogramming is one of the rare cases where ratings don’t rule. Fish Bowl, for example, was not only renewed, but expanded. This year’s installment will feature two fish in a two separate bowls.

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