CBS, MTV: Touched by an unlikely marriage
The network that brings you 'Touched By an Angel' is working the game with the guys from MTV. Viacom, which controls them, hopes the pairing will boost audiences for both.
By ERIC DEGGANS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
At first, it seemed like a match made in H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
CBS, the network of Touched By an Angel and Diagnosis Murder, working the Super Bowl with the guys who gave us Celebrity Deathmatch and Jackass?
Strange at it sounds, there's a one word answer for why music channel MTV is producing major elements of the Tiffany Network's Super Bowl broadcast this year.
That's a handy term for the way mega-corporations get various parts of their business to work together. And with Viacom now merged with CBS, outlets such as MTV, UPN, Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. and Infinity radio stations have all joined the media mix.
Often, such synergy efforts are limited to cross-promotion -- say, Infinity's WQYK-FM airing an interview from CBS's The Early Show on the network's latest Survivor series.
But this year's Super Bowl telecast takes it further: with a halftime extravaganza produced by MTV and a pregame telecast of MTV's signature Total Request Live show on CBS at noon.
MTV also produces two hours of CBS programming Saturday, including a 9 p.m. live special featuring pop star Ricky Martin at MacDill Air Force Base, and a look at past games dubbed CBS Presents: MTV's Super Bowl Uncensored at 10 p.m. (expect insight into the backstage reaction when King of Pop Michael Jackson decided to stand motionless for minutes during his halftime gig at Super Bowl XXVII)
Some viewers may balk at CBS's consuming three hours of primetime the day before the game with Super Bowl shows (not including an hourlong special, The Road to the Super Bowl, airing at noon Saturday). But experts are saying it's an inevitable consequence of our modern media landscape.
"The response, for so many people, is that (synergy) involves this evil empire out there that's all-powerful and all-controlling," said Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
"At the same time, you look at this stuff, and you've gotta admit, it's kinda cool," Thompson added. "All of a sudden, there's a way to do with the Super Bowl what's been done with Pokemon and Star Wars -- turn it into a lifestyle."
The benefits for both are obvious: MTV gets access to a bigger, more diverse audience; CBS gets programming advice from the hippest cable channel on television, with the contacts and cachet to bring Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez (appearing on CBS's Sunday telecast of Total Request Live) to the party.
Executives at MTV and CBS say they've already been working together for years -- most recently on prime time CBS specials starring pop artists Tina Turner and Faith Hill -- making their current partnership less of a stretch than some might think.
"We had a sense that full frontal nudity wouldn't be acceptable," joked Van Toffler, president of MTV and MTV2, declining to detail the few instances when MTV producers suggested something that proved a little too racy for CBS. "Our core audience is 12 to 34. . . . I think there's a few people over age 34 watching CBS that we can reach."
Another benefit: Extra MTV-developed shows featured in CBS' Super Bowl programming attract additional advertisers, which helps defray the enormous cost of buying broadcast rights from the NFL.
"That's the power of synergy opportunities now . . . the ability to defray costs," said Neil Pilson, a New York-based consultant who was president of CBS Sports from 1976 to 1994. "Keep in mind the MTV channel normally reaches a fractional audience -- you're talking less than a 1 rating. Here, they'll be in front of 40 percent of American households . . . (while) helping CBS/Viacom pay very expensive rights fees."
Every network has featured their celebrities on the Super Bowl's big stage, and CBS is no exception. (You think it's a coincidence that Yes, Dear's Mike O'Malley and Anthony Clark host a tribute to Super Bowl commercials at 8 p.m. Saturday?)
The roster of Tiffany Network talent on tap for this year's game includes: the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond (possibly without star Ray Romano), Family Law's Kathleen Quinlan and Chris McDonald; The Fugitive's Tim Daly and Mykelti Williamson; Judging Amy's Tyne Daly; The Late, Late Show's Craig Kilborn; Survivor's Richard Hatch, Jenna Lewis, Gervase Peterson and Jeff Probst; Touched By an Angel's Roma Downey; Welcome to New York's Christine Baranski and Jim Gaffigan and C.S.I.'s Marg Helgenberger.
Locally, WTSP-Ch. 10 anchor Reginald Roundtree and weather forecaster Dick Fletcher get face time on CBS' The Early Show -- delivering live reports on the Tampa Bay area every day this week.
It all culminates with Early Show broadcasts from the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium Friday and the following Monday, Jan. 29 (where the first person voted off Sunday's Survivor sequel will appear).
For Super Bowl viewers, this should be familiar ground: last year, Disney featured large sections of Disney World's millennium celebration in the halftime show for a game that aired on Disney-owned ABC. (one writer suggested they call it The Wonderful World of Synergy).
But in a media environment that's already drowning in hype, is it wise to keep shoving various versions of the CBS/Viacom brand in consumers' faces?
In TV industry-speak: are you kidding?
The added value of association with the Super Bowl -- which drew 88.4-million viewers last year -- drowns out any concerns of consumer overload.
"It's happening so much, I think the public is numb to it," said Eric Logan, operations manager locally for three of CBS' six Infinity radio stations in the area, WQYK-FM 99.5, WQYK-AM 1010 and WRBQ-FM 104.7.
Logan expects synergy to land some CBS stars on his radio stations this week, and the station is already telling viewers to watch the game on local CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.
"The marketplace is so noisy already, you really have to saturate people to make them aware of what you're doing," added Logan, shrugging off concerns of synergy overkill. "It may sound trite, but this truly is priceless -- there is no promotional vehicle larger than the Super Bowl."
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