CBS Network Wins Right to Carry NFL Thursday Games

CBS Corp., owner of the most-watched television network, won rights to televise eight National Football League games on Thursday nights, bolstering a prime-time schedule that already leads the industry.

The games will be carried on CBS and simulcast on the NFL Network, the parties said today in an e-mailed statement that didn’t include financial terms. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be the broadcasters. The agreement is for the 2014 season with an additional year at the NFL’s option.

The games give CBS the most popular content on TV. According to the league, 205 million people tuned into games this past season, and 34 of the 35 most-watched shows were NFL contests. For the league, Thursday matchups on a broadcast network expand its audience while bringing in more revenue. Guggenheim Securities estimates the deal will cost CBS between $250-$300 million.

“CBS is a premium content company and the NFL represents the best premium content there is,” Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corp., said in the statement.

CBS, controlled by billionaire Sumner Redstone, rose 1.5 percent to $58.76 at 3:14 p.m. in New York. The stock advanced 68 percent last year. CBS airs “NCIS,” which is averaging a bigger audience than NBC’s Sunday Night Football this season, according to Nielsen data.

CBS Production

Thursday games previously ran only on the NFL Network, which reaches about 72 million homes. CBS reaches 115 million homes, according to Nielsen.

“Everybody needs the NFL,” said Lee Berke, president of Scarsdale, New York-based LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc. “CBS instantly guarantees itself dominance on Thursday night in the fourth quarter” of the year.

In addition to eight early-season games on CBS, the NFL Network will televise eight late-season contests. The mix will include 14 on Thursday nights and two later in the season on Saturdays. All 16 regular-season games will be produced by CBS with its lead broadcasters and production team, the parties said.

Other bidders included Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, Comcast Corp.’s NBC and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.’s Fox.

‘Biggest Megaphone’

Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, in a telephone interview said all of the bidders were prepared to put the games on their over-the-air networks.

“It was really about building Thursday night and finding the biggest megaphone to do that. The fact that CBS has a broader reach from a viewership standpoint than the competition was a factor,” he said, adding that CBS’s willingness to commit its top talent and production crew for the entire season also made a difference.

A record 112.2 million people watched the NFL’s Super Bowl, which was telecast on Fox Feb. 2. That made it once again the most-watched event on U.S. television. The NFL generated about $9.5 billion in revenue during the 2013 season.

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