Super Bowl counterprogramming is all grown up. This year’s newest entry even sold off naming rights.
Earlier this month, Discovery Communications said it was adding to the pantheon of Super Bowl alternative “bowls”, unveiling [Infant Formula Brand Name] Toddler Bowl, which it will telecast across networks TLC, Discovery Life Channel and Discovery Family Channel.
[Infant Formula Brand Name] Toddler Bowl follows tots ages 1-3 (sponsor’s target drinker) as they are put through a series of challenges to “show what their tiny muscles are made of” and boost their brains, which, in one of those incredible coincidences, is a claim made by the sponsor’s infant formula.
Super Bowl counterprograming is a growing genre, as even viewers with no real interest in football look for ways to share — like some athiests at Christmastime — in what Sunday’s play-by-play announcer Al Michaels has described as a national holiday, and television pundits have more accurately crowned Media Consumption Sunday. Advertisers are happy to oblige, what with Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl ads going for a reported $100,000 per 30-second spot, for instance, versus Super Bowl’s $4.5 million-ish.
Zombie Bowl is back again, but AMC’s The Walking Dead-palooza isn’t the only show marathon offered against the game. BBC America’s running a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon, Bravo’s got an orgy of The Real Housewives Of Atlanta, Investigation Discovery’s offering a Wives With Knives, Comedy Central’s serving up many episodes of Key & Peele and Futurama.
But AMC’s Zombie Bowl results will be more closely watched by the media, given that the first half of the show’s Season 5 tackled NFL’s Sunday Night Football five times, in the demo, in eight matchups (compared to just two wins against the NFL previous season). AMC’s zombie-thon is intended to warm up the room for the show’s return February 8 — a week after Super Bowl XLIX — to finish up Season 5. That midseason debut will play lead-in to AMC’s much-ballyhooed unveiling of its Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul.
This year’s TWD marathon starts at 10 AM Sunday with the Season 1 pilot and continues through the game and into Monday, takes a break after the Season 2 finale, and picks up again at 9 PM Friday with the Season 3 starter, guiding fanatics to that Sunday’s midseason debut.
Another staple of Super Bowl counterprogramming, Puppy Bowl is celebrating its 1oth anniversary Sunday. First telecast in 2005, Puppy Bowl in 2008 cracked the 1 million average audience barrier for the first time (it was sampled by about 8 million that year). Last year’s canine competition average 3.3 million viewers in its initial 3-5 PM ET telecast (like other counter-bowls, Puppy Bowl is run once then repeated several times). An impressive 24 million people sampled Puppy Bowl last year for at least one minute across its multiple telecasts.
If Puppy Bowl was inspired by Yule Log – that was Animal Planet’s story back in 2005 — Nat Geo’s Fish Bowl is tribute to The Factory.
“We were really inspired by the Slow TV movement, which began with Andy Warhol’s 1963 film, Sleep,” Nat Geo Wild EVP and GM Geoff Daniels says. “Essentially, Fish Bowl II is the sequel to Sleep. Just like Warhol, we trained a camera on our subject and stepped back to see what happened. It’s an honor to bring such artistic expression to Nat Geo Wild.”
The first Fish Bowl was dismissed unfairly last year by some of The Reporters Who Cover Television, who noted it had averaged just 27,000 viewers. Fish Bowl’s sample size was 1.3 million viewers, watching at least one minute.
Of a goldfish.
In a bowl.
But, compared to the nine people who attended the premiere of Warhol’s Sleep (two of whom reportedly walked out in the first hour), Fish Bowl I was nothing short of a ratings masterpiece.
This year, Nat Geo Wild has introduced a more visually arresting clownfish to the cast — the piscine equivalent of adding a hot blonde to your newscast. Sadly, the two fish will never get together, what with one living in fresh water, the other in salt water. On the bright side, they’re going to a farm this year, to hang out with cows, chickens and horses. Not coincidentally, it’s Dr. Pol’s farm – Fish Bowl II following a marathon of the network’s The Incredible Dr. Pol episodes airing from 7 AM to 6 PM.
Hallmark Channel jumped into the adorable babies bowl business last year, launching Kitten Bowl. The premiere averaged just over 1 million viewers for the noon telecast that Sunday and, all-in, the bowl was sampled by nearly 12 million viewers watching at least one minute across its multiple plays. In its second outing, Mary Carillo has joined John Sterling as a sportscaster, and producers herded 92 cats, up from last year’s 71. Hallmark says it has organized watch parties in 20 cities across the country, up from last year’s five.
This year, YouTube, already a destination for Super Bowl ad content, announced it would do its own Super Bowl halftime show featuring performances by YouTube stars. “What took YouTube so long?” responded…well, everyone.
Super Bowl halftime show counterprogramming is nothing new, dating back to 1992 when Fox broadcast network raised eyebrows with news it would air a live edition of primetime sketch comedy series In Living Color during the halftime show – a salute to Winter Magic. Seriously. Featuring skaters Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano, as well as Gloria Estefan, though it was never made clear what was her Winter Magic connection. Anyway, Fox’s halftime counter-program clocked 22 million viewers. The NFL took note.
The following year’s halftime performer: Michael Jackson.