When Counterprogramming Super Bowl, Cable's Strategies Vary

How do you counterprogram the Super Bowl? If you’re a cable channel that targets women, you play to your strengths.

At least that’s the strategy of several channels for Sunday, which features the highest-rated TV event of the season … and the rest of the 500-channel universe fighting for what’s left. Some channels, like TNT, TBS and Lifetime are going the movie route. Other channels, like Nick at Nite, are going with their regular programming through the Super Bowl.

TBS is targeting women again this year with its third annual “Hand Over the Remote” movie marathon. The idea is to program a bunch of movies to attract the female demographic, start early and in two cases, often. The first, 1979’s Blue Lagoon starring a young Brooke Shields, starts at 6:15 a.m. It will run through the rest of the day, with repeats of Stepmom and Sleepless in Seattle in the primetime.

Bill Cox, SVP/programming for TBS Superstation, said movie marathons aimed at women have been successful in the past against sporting events. Since the Super Bowl specials start so early in the day, TBS needed an all-out strategy.



“We wanted to start that very, very early, so vertically we had something very strong,” he said. Two years ago, TBS ran Selena and Up Close and Personal against the game; last year, it was Stepmom and Sleepless in Seattle. TBS delivered a 2.5 rating against the Super Bowl.

“We knew we were headed in the right direction,” Cox said. But programmers decided to hold back this year on the channel’s biggest movie holding, Pretty Woman.

Sister network TNT also plans a special all-day event, with Civil War-themed programming: Gettysburg and Andersonville in the day, followed by Gone with the Wind in primetime. Cox said TNT’s going after the older female demo with Gone with the Wind, and that both networks’ strategy had been choreographed for maximum impact.

Lifetime, one of basic cable’s top channels and tops in female demos, will run a movie again this year. Lifetime has average a 2 rating against the Super Bowl, all with movies or miniseries. The regular Sunday night dramas – including Strong Medicine and The Division – won’t be running.

“We’re kind of naturally counterprogrammed to the Super Bowl. It behooves us not to blow up our schedule,” Brooks said. He said that other channels have different strategies, depending on their targets, but he didn’t think most cable networks counterprogram in the traditional sense against the Super Bowl.

Nick at Nite plans a Coach marathon starting after the end of the game in hopes of snaring football fans who liked the old ABC sitcom about a college athletic director.

“It’s a football-related show and it only makes sense after the Super Bowl to run football-related programming,” said Nick at Nite spokesman David Schwartz.

The marathon will kick off with a Coach featuring a guest appearance by Tampa Bay running back Keyshawn Johnson. Schwartz said another episode with Eddy George would have run but his team, the Tennessee Titans, was eliminated.

But during the game, Nick at Nite isn’t going to change its schedule.

“Our fans are very loyal and they’re used to their specific programs. We’re here for them, and they expect XXX at 7, XXX at 8, and that’s what we’re going to give them. Not everyone’s into the Super Bowl,” Schwartz said.

Brooks said the strategy works for specifically targeted channel, like Lifetime.

“Your strength is what your viewers know you for,” he said.

TBS’ Cox said with a predominantly female audience, the channel hasn’t had trouble against the Super Bowl.

“It’s the opposite. They’re very strong. The ‘Hand over the Remote’ has become very popular with ad sales,” he said.

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