Big sports TV franchises are costly -- think the NFL and the Olympics.
For many networks, it is worth it. NBC will prove it with one simple number. For the first time in 16 years, NBC is the No. 1 network for total average viewers in a specific week. CBS has been the reigning champion when it comes to total TV viewers.
NBC did this because it had the Super Bowl four days before the start of the Olympics. Even with both stellar events, NBC just edged out CBS for the most recent week ending February 11: 9.56 million to 9.38 million.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting & Sports, reckons the network will do this again next week, partly because the Olympics runs 16 days.
But if you took sports programming out of the picture -- just analyzing entertainment and other non-sports programming -- things would be different. NBC would be behind CBS by 1.9 million viewers.
In this regard, consider Fox’s move to secure more “Thursday Night Football” -- 11 games per season for the next five years. For the last two seasons, CBS and NBC shared those games — with the NFL Network simulcasting all of them.
Pretty good deal? All NFL programming has seen around a 10% decline in viewership. The answer is that everything is relative -- the weakest NFL series still bests virtually all other TV.
Dig deeper. Before Fox’s deal to secure “TNF,” it agreed to sell about half its TV/entertainment businesses to Walt Disney for $52.4 billion. The reason: It wanted to focus on national TV sports programming, as well as news programming for its Fox News Channel and Fox Business networks.
Would it make sense for other big TV networks to follow Fox’s lead, trimming some holdings to focus more on sports?
If so, it would drive license fees for sports TV programming even higher. All major media holding companies -- Comcast Corp., Walt Disney, and CBS -- already have significant sports TV programming.
NBCUniversal has a major long-term commitment with the Olympics and the NFL; as well as its sports cable NBCSN network; and its partnership in the Olympic Channel in the U.S.
Walt Disney, with ABC and ESPN, has the NBA, College Football Playoffs and “Monday Night Football.”
CBS, which will get bigger with a Viacom re-merger, also has the NFL on Sundays, as well as the monthlong NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (shared with Turner networks).
Given that, there doesn’t seem to be much room to grow -- at least with big sports franchises. With continued fractionalization of media, and the need to grow bigger quickly, what can a single TV network do?
Whatever it is, it might become ever more valuable -- from a marketing point of view -- to call yourself the most-viewed TV network. Bottom line? Networks hopes to get to bottom of this.