CBS Sports And Nickelodeon Preview Cable Network’s NFL Playoff Game Telecast

A Nickelodeon promotion at Super Bowl LII in 2018. Scott Boehm via AP

CBS Sports and ViacomCBS sibling Nickelodeon have offered a preview of the custom telecast of an NFL wild-card playoff game the kids network will present next month. Bottom line: Viewers opting for that version instead of the regular CBS telecast should expect plenty of Snapchat-like filters, computer animation, on-screen (and on-player) graphics and plenty of other “Nick-ification.”

The booth for the January 10 contest will feature play-by-play announcer Noah Eagle (adult son of CBS announcer Ian Eagle), with Nate Burleson of CBS and Gabrielle Nevaeh Green of Nickelodeon’s All That. Lex Lumpkin, another All That cast member, ­­­will be a reporter during the game.

The telecast, which joins a streaming playoff game that same weekend on NBCUniversal’s Peacock, is part of the NFL’s effort to broaden out to a wider audience. Ratings, while they have slipped 7% in this Covid-19-affected season, remain strong, but the NFL is always looking to shore up as many audience segments as possible. Thursday night games, for example, are not only streamed by Amazon but by its younger-skewing, game-centered platform, Twitch.

The network and the NFL have worked closely before, with Super Bowl activations and a heavy presence by league stars at Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards and a sports-centric offshoot.

Shawn Robbins, a coordinating producer of the game, told Deadline in an interview that the goal is to appeal to both parents and kids. “From the huddle to the whistle, the game will look somewhat the same,” he said, though the down-and-distance marker will be “Nick-ified,” a term he said the production team has used liberally in its internal planning. “We’re not going to mess with your football and put stuff on if that’s going to take away from the viewing experience. This is a co-viewing experience, so we know we’re satisfying the parents and the kids. As soon as that play is over, fair game – you’ll see some fun stuff. We may show you some enhanced replays.”

Surveys have shown that no more than 15 minutes of a typical three-hour NFL telecast are taken up with actual action. The rest of the time is devoted to breaks between plays, penalty calls, time-outs, and other lulls.

Brian Robbins, President of ViacomCBS Kids & Family Entertainment, said the network “jumped at the chance” to mount the alternative telecast. “The big challenge was, ‘How do we make this different?’ That’s where the fun began.”

While fun is a primary goal, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus is mindful of the realities of broadcasting NFL games during a season with empty stadiums and constant flux due to the pandemic. Asked how the splashy plans could be affected by news of a sudden coronavirus outbreak or other news that merits addressing on-air but is less compatible with bright-green slime, he said it’s a balancing act CBS has faced all year.

“We’re always flexible when it comes to these things,” McManus said. “We’re pretty good at thinking on our feet. If there were a major story, we would adjust and we would tell that story. We try to reflect the appropriate tone in all of our broadcasts.”

He added, “We’re documenting what’s taking place .. and we’ll document it responsibly and in a very creative way.”

The game will be preceded by The SpongeBob SportsPants Countdown Special, a sports-themed compilation special hosted by the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller. Also in the works is a halftime sneak peek of Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years. The spinoff will debut in 2021 on Paramount+, the planned rebrand of CBS All Access, before airing on Nickelodeon later in the year.

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