During a conference call with the media today, producers, talent and top exec Mark Lazarus addressed topics such as the NFL’s TV ratings vulnerability, anthem protests, and the chance of Grammys-style activism by halftime act Justin Timberlake.
Lazarus, NBC’s chairman of broadcasting and sports, was asked if the big game might soon be streamed by a digital network instead of carried by a linear-oriented network. “I don’t see it,” he said. “I see, and what is happening, is the NFL continue to be a broadcast-centric league. It helps them maintain and grow as the largest media property in the world. But what’s being added along the way are other platforms.”
Amazon, for example, streamed eight Thursday night games, after Twitter took a turn in 2016 and Yahoo carried a game the year before. The aim of streaming, Lazarus continued, “is to make the game accessible to everybody. Linear will always be the base, always be the biggest. You’ll see platforms added along the way in conjunction.”
Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels agreed. “I just don’t see the day in my lifetime,” he said. “Maybe in yours.” Color analyst Chris Collinsworth added, “This is a national celebration. It’s one of the very few things we all have in common.” Given the quasi-holiday status of the game, he added, “I hope they always make it as easy as possible for people to tune in.”
Executive producer Fred Gaudelli, asked about how the network would cover anthem protests, said he did not expect any. “I don’t anticipate that happening. It hasn’t happened here for a while,” he said. “We’re here to cover a football game, not a political event.” If something does occur, Michaels said NBC would cover it. “In a situation like that, people are seeing it” so the cameras and announcers would cover it. “What people don’t want you to do is editorialize. … People don’t wt to be lectured to. Simple as that.”
In a similar vein, Lazarus said Timberlake’s halftime set should go off without incident, despite the pop star’s recent release of the song “Supplies,” which criticizes President Donald Trump. Lazarus largely deferred to the NFL when asked if Timberlake could create a Grammys-style spectacle in his first Super Bowl outing since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. But he did say the network “works closely with them. We are aware of Justin Timberlake’s set list. But I would not anticipate anything in that area. This is a musical performance, not an awards show.”
In addition to the market forces and bundle ecosystem issues creating headwinds for the game’s ratings prospects, the NBC group was asked if the presence of the New England Patriots (who face the Philadelphia Eagles) could be a drag on viewership. (The Patriots have appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning five, since 1985.)
“You either love them or you hate them but you have to pay attention,” Michael said. “I don’t see someone waking up Sunday morning and saying, ‘It’s the Patriots again. I’m going to go to the movies.’”