Thomson huddles with CBS on hi-def

Will sponsor broadcasts of Super Bowl, AFC playoffs

In its first significant HDTV programming announcement for the 2000 television season, CBS has struck a deal with Thomson Consumer Electronics to underwrite CBS' high-definition broadcast of Super Bowl XXXV, as well as four American Football Conference playoff games.

CBS, which has relied on Mitsubishi and Samsung to sponsor HDTV prime time series and movies in the past, is expected to announce several more HDTV programming deals in the coming weeks. A safe bet is that Mitsubishi will sponsor CBS' HDTV broadcast of the U.S. Open tennis championships, as it did last year. Industry sources also suggest that CBS will continue to offer regular HDTV prime time programming, although it probably will be underwritten by a new consumer-electronics partner.

Thomson, the U.S.'s No. 1 color-TV-set manufacturer, sponsored CBS' HDTV broadcast of the NCAA Final Four last spring. Company spokesman David Arland says the NFL playoff games (AFC Wild Card, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2000; AFC Divisional Playoffs, Saturday, Jan. 6, and Sunday, Jan. 7, 2001; and the AFC Championship, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2001) and Super Bowl XXXV (Sunday, Jan. 28, 2,001, from Tampa, Fla.) nicely coincide with the peak TV-set buying season.

"It's a good vehicle at the best time of the year to sell television product," says Arland. "A lot of people buy new sets in January to watch the Super Bowl." He adds that Thomson isn't interested in sponsoring prime time series or in any other season-long deals.

"We're not interested in underwriting the season of any network," says Arland. "It's not our job. It's the broadcasters' job."

Thomson will cover CBS' production costs for the five HDTV games and has also committed to extensive advertising on CBS' analog programming this fall. The company will receive a promotional mention during the analog broadcasts of the NFL postseason games noting its HDTV sponsorship.

"The second generation of these deals has made the advertising component much bigger," says Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS Television. "After all, these companies now want to sell sets. Sure, they want the programming on-air, but there's also the beginning of a more aggressive phase of advertising and marketing from firms that have product in the marketplace."

Thomson will focus its marketing effort on its 38-inch, $3,799 integrated HDTV set, which can receive NTSC, ATSC and DirecTV pictures and started shipping this month. Arland says the company will probably tie a promotional offer into the Super Bowl broadcast, based on the success it enjoyed last spring, when it put together a promotional package for the NCAA Final Four, pairing a hi-res monitor and HDTV set-top for $2,400.

While the Thomson deal is aimed squarely at the more-than 30 CBS O & Os and affiliates currently broadcasting DTV, Arland suggests that DirecTV might also carry CBS' HDTV production of the Super Bowl. There is a precedent: DirecTV nationally broadcast several NFL games produced by CBS in HDTV back in 1998.

A DirecTV spokesman said that while there were no concrete plans to broadcast the CBS HDTV games nationally, the DBS service will be meeting with Thomson and the NFL over the next few months to discuss the possibility. Such an arrangement would obviously also require the agreement of CBS affiliates.