'Live' Brings Out The Best In Broadcast TV
Looking back on our stories this week, I see that the common denominator for many was live TV — real, honest-to-goodness live TV as in "Live! From New York! It's Saturday Night!"
The week started with Fox's live broadcast of the Super Bowl, which pulled in more viewers — 112 million — than any other TV show in U.S. history, despite the fact that the first play of the second half ended all the football drama.
Not much more to say about this phenomenon, which seems to have become thoroughly ingrained into American popular culture — at least a big portion of it. When I see that 112 million, I also think that two thirds of the population ignored all the fuss. It reminds me of what a wonderfully diverse country this is.
Three days later came news that CBS was loading up on more live football of the NFL kind. It struck a deal that will give it eight Thursday night games in the first half of next season and the job of producing eight more (two on a Saturday) in the latter half for the NFL Network.
CBS is paying the NFL at least $250 million for the rights, according to the New York Times. Not so bad as NFL rights go these days, but the CBS games are going to be simulcast by the NFL Network and the deal is only for one year with a league option for a second.
Those terms suggest that CBS is paying to be a branding or marketing tool for the NFL Network, which is still trying to establish itself in the cable backwaters and command big programming fees for cable operators.
That notion was reinforced by NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp when he explained to USA Today why the NFL choose CBS to be its broadcast partner: “CBS made a compelling case on the strength of their viewership and the strength of their ratings. Plus, the amount of promotion they were willing to give Thursday Night Football, as well as promoting the NFL Network, really distinguished themselves."
Sounds to me like the NFL should be paying CBS.
In any event, let's hope that CBS can extend the deal with the NFL to the mutual benefit of both networks. Live pro football is the hottest TV commodity out there.
Yesterday, NBC began its two-week, multiple-platform, multi-network coverage of the Sochi Olympics with the promise to carry live everything on skates, skis and rails — more than 1,000 hours — on NBCOlympics.com. There, all those hours can be accessed by desktop, smartphone or tablet.
I presume that NBC would have liked to air some events live, but the time difference between New York and Sochi is just too great — nine hours. Perhaps, we'll see some live action on the broadcast network in 2016 during the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, which is just three hours in front of New York.
NBC in making one notable exception to its promise of blanket live coverage online. The opening ceremonies will be taped, delayed and seen only on NBC in primetime tonight.
Over the past couple of weeks, TV stations have been pumping out more live local news than usual as they try to keep up with the snow storms that have battered the eastern half of the country.
On Wednesday morning, the stations here in New York preempted the network morning shows so that they could report live on the latest storm to hit the area.
And when I say live, I don't just mean from the studio. I mean from the street, too. With their fleets of microwave and satellite trucks and ever-more capable bonded cellular links, the stations seemed to be everywhere in the sprawling metropolis.
The cellular technology is not just a substitute for microwave and satellite trucks. It changes the nature of the news. With the mobile, go-anywhere capability, reporters in cars rolled up and down the streets of New York City, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey asking residents how they were coping and bringing a new level of intimacy to the coverage.
The Daily Show last week tweaked WSB Atlanta for its 25-reporter "news box pileup" that the Cox station created during its coverage of a snow storm that caught the city by surprise on Jan. 28. But that graphic, more than anything I've seen on one screen, showed the extraordinary resources stations like WSB have to be live and ubiquitous and their willingness to expend them when the story demands.
I think CBS missed a big opportunity this Sunday. In a two-and-a-half hour special starting at 8 p.m., CBS will celebrate the advent of The Beatles on U.S. soil 50 years to the day they first appeared on CBS's Ed Sullivan Show. It looks like a great show and I'll be watching, but it could have been truly landmark TV had CBS bought all that talent together for a live event.