Ebersol: 'SNF' green for NBC

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NEW YORK -- As NBC's first season of "Sunday Night Football" draws to a close, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol is happy with what has been accomplished.

Through its first 16 telecasts, "SNF" is averaging 17.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That is up 8% compared with last year's "Monday Night Football" on ABC. "SNF" also is up 6% in adults 18-49 and men 18-49.

Ebersol said he is pleased by how "SNF" has done in accomplishing its goals: Turning the NFL game into a cornerstone of NBC Sports and helping the network recover some of what it had lost in the two years of its primetime decline.

"SNF" has helped NBC not only on Sunday nights -- whether the network was a nonentity against "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" last season -- but also boosting its entire schedule. NBC averaged 10.1 million viewers so far this season compared with 9.2 million a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research. That is up 9% year-over-year.

But removing the impact of football, NBC is flat in viewers and adults 18-49. And that is with a strong "Deal or No Deal" and NBC's owning of the season's breakout hit, "Heroes."

NBC also is sure to miss football when it goes away. NBC's postfootball Sunday schedule includes reality series that don't seem like they're going to catch on with men 18-49 or draw the same numbers that "SNF" has been earning.

Ebersol said that "SNF" would make money this season, though he didn't say how much. He said it also is on track to make money next season, despite ABC's contention that its "Monday Night Football" telecasts lost $150 million a year. NBC pays $50 million a year more than ABC did for "Monday Night Football."

Ebersol said that he and Zucker were able to make money by cutting back elsewhere at the network. Also no doubt helping is NBC's parent company, General Electric, which made a significant marketing commitment to the NFL in the categories of healthcare technology, electrical products and financial services.

It has been a good year for football, with each of the networks (CBS, Fox, ESPN and NBC) seeing year-over-year ratings increases. But Ebersol thinks that the impact of flex scheduling -- which guarantees NBC a good matchup into the waning days of the season -- has been a wonderful thing. ABC last season started off well with "Monday Night Football" but, without flex scheduling, had been stuck with miserable matchups in the last weeks of the season.

NBC faced a somewhat tough sell with "SNF" to a Madison Avenue that wasn't convinced that "SNF" would outperform what "MNF" had done on ABC. Some advertisers balked at paying what ABC had gotten for a 30-second spot and sources said NBC retrenched.

But Ebersol said that as buyers saw the strength of NBC's football package and the benefits of flex scheduling, it has been seeing more success.

"By early October, they (advertisers) were both delighted and surprised when they saw we were the clear new destination to reach men on Sunday," Ebersol said.

NBC's regular-season inventory has been sold out for weeks and the cost per spot has been topping $400,000 per 30-second commercial.

"It was a great success and it sets it up for next year," Ebersol said.
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