The NFL has decided to shift eight of its Thursday night games to a broadcast network, and announced Wednesday that CBS won the bid to showcase more of television's hottest property.
CBS will air the games during the first eight weeks of the season with its top broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, simulcasting them with the NFL Network. The league's cable network will show six Thursday night games alone later in the season, produced by CBS with Nantz and Simms also in the booth. Two Saturday games are included in the deal, but it is unclear whether they will be on CBS or the NFL Network.
The NFL said the contract is for one year, and the league has an option to extend it for 2015. Financial terms were not disclosed.
CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and Turner were all interested in the NFL's Thursday night package. Live television events like sports and awards shows are increasingly important for broadcasters as the audience fragments for traditional fare, and football games are the most dependable ratings-grabbers. Sunday's Super Bowl, with 112.2 million viewers, set a record as the most-watched program in U.S. television history.
NBC's biggest hit each fall is its Sunday night package of NFL games.
The NFL started a limited package of Thursday games in 2006, and showed 13 games on the NFL Network this past season. Its goal is to both increase the visibility of the NFL Network through promotion on television's most-watched network, along with putting the Thursday games on firmer footing, said Brian Rolapp, the league's executive vice president for media.
"We want to make Thursday night football as big as possible in the minds of the NFL fan," Rolapp said.
Part of the reason for a short-term deal is the NFL's indecision about whether it sees the Thursday night franchise as best for its cable network in years to come, or whether the rights money and greater exposure offered by a broadcast network is the smarter financial play.
CBS will have no flexibility in what games it broadcasts on Thursdays. The NFL will announce its Thursday schedule before the season begins, Rolapp said.
CBS is already the top-rated network, and its victory with the NFL short-circuited what would have been a strong move by a rival to cut into its lead.
"You can never be too rich or too thin," CBS Corp. Chairman Leslie Moonves said. "You can never have too much programming."
CBS airs its most popular comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," on a strong Thursday night schedule. The NFL package will enable CBS to start its Thursday night schedule later in the fall, around the beginning of November, and give it a large audience to promote its other programming. CBS will also probably sprinkle some of its Thursday shows elsewhere on the schedule in early fall to give other nights a boost, Moonves said.
Not only will the games provide a short-term boost for CBS, but the network hopes relationships forged in this deal will offer an advantage if future Thursday games come up for bid.
"It's our hope that our ratings, our performance and our production is pleasing to the NFL and this deal can continue on beyond this year or two," Moonves said.