While alternate feed broadcasts date back decades (ESPN’s first one was an IndyCar race in 1994, long before the ManningCast), they’ve certainly exploded in popularity recently. Beyond that aforementioned Monday Night Football feed with Peyton and Eli Manning and the alternate broadcasts ESPN has done in other sports, a few of the many other alternate feeds in recent years include CBS’ Nickelodeon coverage of selected NFL games, various Turner/Bleacher Report (now WBD Sports) TeamStreams, Watchalong feeds, and other alternate broadcasts for NCAA men’s basketball March Madness games and NBA games, Amazon alternate broadcasts for Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football, and even the Los Angeles Clippers offering season-long in-market alternate feeds.
But an important consideration with alternate broadcasts that’s not always discussed is if they’re actually pulling in new fans, or if they’re just subdividing an existing audience that was going to watch the game anyway. And that came up in CBS executives’ discussion this week of doing an alternate broadcast on Nickelodeon for February’s Super Bowl LVIII. That will be the first alternate broadcast for a Super Bowl.
On a conference call this week, CBS Sports chairman/NFL on CBS executive producer Sean McManus, executive producer/executive vice president (production) Harold Bryant, and executive vice president (advertising) John Bogusz discussed why the Super Bowl alternate broadcast on Nickelodeon is worth it for them despite the challenges it comes with. To start with, McManus said the Nickelodeon broadcasts have been a tremendous benefit for growing that channel (which is also owned by CBS parent Paramount Global). And he said the Super Bowl and its audience will help further there.
“We’ve been able to, with our partnership with Nickelodeon, bring them in to the NFL. And there’s nothing that could be as beneficial for them as being associated with the Super Bowl. So we are really excited to have that. And it just shows the breadth and the depth of Paramount Global and the different platforms and assets that we have to grow the NFL and to grow the Super Bowl.”
And McManus said while Paramount Global remains very focused on the main CBS broadcast and doesn’t want to reduce it, the Nickelodeon broadcasts feel more like reaching new audiences rather than splitting what they have.
“Fundamentally, our biggest priority is driving the biggest audience to CBS and our broadcast there, which, as you know, airs on Paramount+ also. That’s our main goal with sports and that’s our main goal with the Super Bowl. However, we think that in very few and select venues, we can bring in a new audience. And I think in many ways Nickelodeon is an added and incremental audience as opposed to an audience that’s being taken away from CBS. Exclusivity for our affiliates is an important priority for us also, and they have that for almost all of the games; they’re making an exception for Nickelodeon.”
There are some hurdles there, though. One comes up on the advertising side. Bogusz said Paramount’s pitch to Super Bowl advertisers (who have bought more than 90 percent of the available slots to date) has been that they’ll get to air spots both on the primary CBS broadcast and the Nickelodeon feed, and they can choose to make those different if they like.
“Everyone who bought the game, they get both the CBS feed and the Nickelodeon feed. They can run a different piece of creative if they choose on Nickelodeon.”
But not all commercials can air on the Nickelodeon broadcast, which is focused on those younger audiences. Specifically, that’s an issue for beer ads (Bogusz discussed elsewhere in the call that Anheuser-Busch no longer has exclusivity with the NFL on CBS, so expect beer ads for both AB InBev products and other companies’ products) and gambling ads. And that’s going to lead to the Nickelodeon ads varying slightly. But, in response to a question from Variety‘s Brian Steinberg (who also wrote about this), Bogusz said they have several options there.
“There are a handful of units we’ll have to deal who may not be able to run on Nickelodeon, namely the beers and the gambling units. So we will figure out in terms of how we’re going to handle those handful of units; we can promo it, we can possibly have a few extra units to sell on the Nickelodeon side, or we could actually even take some of it back for programming to make the game a little more Nickified. So that is still a work in progress because we want to work with our partners in the game, depending what they want do, in terms of who we sell the game to.”
On the production side, though, Bryant said there really haven’t been too many challenges with these Nickelodeon alternate broadcasts. And he said a key part of that is Nickelodeon using experienced CBS Sports staffers for production.
“The relationship is terrific because they have leaned on us to provide the production team. The producer, the director, the coordinating producer, that’s all veteran CBS event producers. They’ve been slotting games all year long. So it’s a very easy transition.”
Bryant said those production crews try to treat these broadcasts quite differently, and in line with what Nickelodeon wants to emphasize, but their CBS background means there’s general continuity to how CBS Sports would approach a game.
“We lean into their tone and feel by using all of the slime and the animated characters. We follow their lead on what we want to get in. But to capture the flow of the game, it’s our producer and director.”
And McManus said he thinks the Nickelodeon broadcasts started strong back in the 2020-21 NFL playoffs, but have improved dramatically since then. And he expects that to get better still for the Super Bowl.
“If you look at the first game we did, which really blew a lot of people away just in terms of the graphics and the animations and the look of it, and then just look at what we did on Christmas Day last year, amazing improvement. I’ve seen some of the things that they are doing for the Super Bowl, whether it’s virtual reality, artificial intelligence, it’s just amazing. And I think it’s going to really impress a lot of people.”
He added that the Nickelodeon NFL connection’s improved further with the weekly NFL SlimeTime show there, launched in the fall of 2021.
“As John said, our big focus is still on the CBS and Paramount+ broadcast, but Nickelodeon is going to get a lot of attention. And let’s not forget that they also do a weekly show, NFL SlimeTime, on Wednesday nights, which I call the fastest half-hour in sports television. It features Nate Burleson and a cast of Nickelodeon characters and personalities.”
McManus said he thinks there will be future value for Nickelodeon, CBS, and ultimately the NFL in reaching a younger audience with these broadcasts.
“I think exposing the younger audience with their families to the Nickelodeon broadcast, and to the Nickelodeon series NFL Slimetime, I think it can only help. I don’t have hard and fast data to back that up, but I think instinctively if you create NFL programming that is really appealing for an audience, I think that over time that can have a positive effect on the demos of NFL content.”
He said CBS is not going to go to weekly alternate broadcasts, though, considering how important their network and affiliate model remains to them.
“But I don’t think you’ll see, at least, I can’t speak for NBC or Fox or anybody else, and I can’t speak about future Super Bowls except ours, which is four years after this one in February. But I think you’ll see on CBS, select ones, but you’re not going to see every week an alternate broadcast. Because our affiliate model and our traditional pay-TV bundle is still really where we make our bones.”
The NFL on CBS schedule begins in Week 1 on Sunday, Sept. 10. They, and Nickelodeon, will televise Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, Feb. 11.