Commentary

"Monday Night Football" to ESPN: Everybody Dance Now

New Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger has passed his first completion - shifting ABC's legendary "Monday Night Football" package to its cable network ESPN.

NBC also had good play at the line scrimmage. It figured out the right time to get back into NFL football - after a six-year hiatus - in getting the Sunday Night Football package. ESPN currently has the package of games.

Viewers have lamented - as well as "MNF" announcer Al Michaels - that shifting the hallmark "MNF" to cable would jettison women viewers - who represent about 30 percent of its audience - once the games move to ESPN in September 2006.

And that brings up this point: Does Disney lose the brand value, the popular culture status, it has built up for "MNF" for the last 35 years? Not if Disney markets the heck out of it.

Still, cable is not quite broadcast yet. There'll be some sacrifices, as ESPN won't be getting the same ratings as ABC. If that were the case, the NFL would have given ESPN a shot at the Super Bowl.

No matter. Walt Disney Co. shareholders are strutting in the end zone because Iger kept "MNF" in the Disney family and cut the $150 million a year in losses ABC was incurring. ABC network immediately becomes profitable.

For NBC, it's an immediate counter-programming move for its Sunday night lineup. ABC has crushed NBC on Sunday night with its lineup this season of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Desperate Housewives," and "Grey's Anatomy." NBC's NFL football package will give male viewers a strong alternative to ABC's mostly women-targeted primetime programming.

For NFL, it gets to act like a good sports programming owner -- one that didn't necessarily want to squash the TV networks into piling on more program deficits.

Who loses?

Possibly the ABC affiliates lose, as they won't have a high-rated, hard-to-get-male-viewer program to sell to local advertisers in primetime. Still, Walt Disney's point of view is that stations will have other opportunities - including giving ABC Entertainment more room to expand its successful program development that it started on Sunday nights.

Another winner is ESPN's cable affiliates who have even better inventory to sell to local advertisers than it has with ESPN's Sunday night football games.

Everybody's doing a peacock, eagle, or high-stepping dance in the end zone.

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