NBC acquires rights to televise NFL's 'Thursday Night Football' games with CBS

By Doug G. Ware  |  Feb. 1, 2016 at 9:06 PM
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NEW YORK, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Starting this year, CBS will have to share coverage of Thursday Night Football games with fellow broadcaster NBC, the NFL announced Monday.

The league said the two networks and NFL Network will alternate among the games played on Thursday in 2016 and 2017.

When the series began in 2006, NFL Network was the only broadcaster. CBS joined in 2014 and now NBC is on board for 2016.

The NFL has broadcasting contracts with NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN for various packages. CBS and Fox have rights to games played on early Sunday afternoons, while NBC has the rights to the Sunday night matchup each week. ESPN broadcasts Monday Night Football.

The main three networks have rights to broadcast the Super Bowl once every three years. Monday's announcement means the Thursday Night Football series has reached a similar format.

"There was clearly demand, and when we started looking at two partners, that become our priority," NFL Executive VP for Media Brian Rolapp said Monday.

CBS will have rights to five games starting in Week 2, while NBC will air five games starting Week 11. Each of those 10 games will air simultaneously on NFL Network, which will also broadcast an additional eight games not on NBC or CBS.

"We had two priorities. It was very important to get the beginning half of the season as a terrific platform to launch our prime-time schedule," Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said. "We knew from day one that this would be a two-network package, and our goal was to keep a piece of it."

For the 2015 season, CBS paid the NFL $300 million. In 2016, the network will pay a reduced $225 million, as will NBC. The contract translates to each Thursday night game costing the respective broadcasters $45 million -- up from $37.5 million this past season.

McManus called the new contract a "financially responsible deal" for CBS.

NBC expressed pleasure with their window of games, which happen during the latter part of the season as well as the Thanksgiving holiday -- times considered particularly valuable due to increased holiday advertising revenue.

Viewership for the Thursday Night series has steadily risen in recent years. In 2013, exclusively on NFL Network, each game averaged 8 million viewers. In 2014, when CBS joined, that average climbed to 16.1 million -- and rose further to 17.6 this past season.

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