CBS Says It Doesn’t Care if Sunday’s Super Bowl Doesn’t Break Ratings Records

Network poised to surpass NBC’s ad revenue from last year’s game

In one of his first major decisions after becoming CBS Entertainment president in September, Glenn Geller tapped Late Show with Stephen Colbert—and not one of CBS's fledgling prime-time dramas like Supergirl or Limitless—for its high-profile post-Super Bowl slot.

"We loved the idea of having a big, live event after the Super Bowl—something that could be topical, have comedy and where anything can happen," Geller said. "It felt like Stephen could utilize what makes him so great. One-hundred million people are going to watch the Super Bowl, and we would love for them to see what Stephen does on a nightly basis."

But Colbert's postgame Late Show represents only one piece of CBS' 13-plus hours of Super Bowl Sunday programming, as the network looks to keep audiences glued to the screen throughout the day.

CBS will air seven hours of pregame content starting at 11 a.m., leading up to a kick-off show at 6 p.m. and the game itself at 6:30. After Colbert comes local news, followed by The Late Late Show with James Corden, which ends the day's programming. "There's always a lot of pressure associated with the Super Bowl, but I think we're ready for it," says Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports and executive producer of Super Bowl 50 coverage.

Last year, NBC's Super Bowl telecast was the most-watched TV program ever, with 114.4 million total viewers and 49.7 million adults 18-49. McManus claims he isn't concerned about topping that. "That's more of an industry thing than anything else," he says. "Basically, it's bragging rights, and if you don't get it, it's still going to be the most-watched telecast of the year."

Ratings aside, CBS aims to rake in more ad revenue than NBC did, as 30-second slots this year are going for as much as a record $5 million, up from $4.5 million last year. CBS Corp. CEO and chairman Les Moonves has held back a few positions to sell at a premium.

For his part, McManus is tasked with making sure every one of those commercials and sponsor segments airs, and planning for contingencies like the blackout that hit New Orleans' Superdome in 2013, when CBS last aired the game.

"We'll be better prepared this time around than we were last time," he said. But most of all, McManus said, "we have to avoid being so hyped up that we forget that in the end, it's just a football game."

While most of the attention goes to in-game ads, CBS is also aggressively selling spots around its other game-day content.

"What better opportunity than for some of the food-delivery folks to start advertising early in the afternoon, getting people ready to say, 'Hey, I'll buy a pizza!'?" says Dan Donnelly, evp, managing director for sports at SMG. E-commerce could also benefit early, as consumers prepare to spend money later in the day after watching Super Bowl ads.

After the game, brands and viewers should also find a friendly home in Colbert. "To warm up on the couch to a heavy, hour-long drama, I'm not sure if that's exactly what the mass audience wants at that point," Donnelly says. "It's a bold move to go with Colbert, but not a risky move, because the audience already loves him. And it's going to be a lot of fun after the game. I think it's going to work out very, very well."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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