Alone among national broadcast events, the Super Bowl has managed to grow its ratings for the last five years.
The Oscars can’t say that. The Emmys can’t say that. Even the Olympics can’t.
So it’s no wonder that Fox, which has the rights to this year's game in Dallas, is taking cross-promotion to a whole new level. The network plans to use this Sunday's match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers to promote everything from “The O’Reilly Factor” to new Shawn Ryan series "Chicago Code" to the 3D feature “Rio.”
“This is the largest cross-promotional initiative we’ve ever had. We’ve had six Super Bowls on Fox, and this is the grandest effort we’ve ever put forward to include as many channels and initiatives under the Fox umbrella,” Dan Bell, vice president of corporate communications for Fox Sports, told TheWrap.
All that’s missing, at least as far as we can tell, is a slick TV spot for Rupert Murdoch's new iPad-based newspaper TheDaily.
(Although, staffers for fledgling platform will be on-hand in Dallas this week.)
“The Super Bowl has increased its audience size for the last five years,” Horizon Media TV programming analyst Brad Adgate told TheWrap. “It doesn’t matter who’s playing. It doesn’t matter what network it’s on.”
But believe it or not, record ratings and rebounding ad prices are secondary to the platform it provides for promoting products that are on the air all year round.
“The Super Bowl is most valuable to News Corp. for its ability to advertise other shows on Fox’s broadcast schedule and to provide a strong audience lead-in to ‘Glee,’” Laura Martin, a media and cable industry analyst at Needham and Company, told TheWrap.
Among Fox’s plans to capitalize on the Super Bowl:
>> "Glee” will air its heavily promoted Michael Jackson-themed “Thriller” episode immediately after the game.
>> ”Glee” star Lea Michele will perform “America, the Beautiful.”
>> Fox News star Bill O’Reilly will welcome President Barack Obama into the “No Spin” zone as part of a special pre-game interview.
>> Pre-game coverage will also include a red carpet special, showcasing celebrities and athletes attending the game. Stars from Fox's “Glee,” “American Idol,” “House” and new series “Chicago Code” will be heavily promoted.
>> "This is one of the most exciting television events all year," David Tabacoff, "O'Reilly Factor" Senior Executive Producer, told TheWrap. Sounds like it – crews from FoxSports.com, Fox.com and The Daily will be on hand in Dallas doing coverage of the event. Other Fox cable channels besides Fox News will be there, too, including Fox Deportes, Fuel, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports Southwest.
And that’s just what’s been publicly released. Analysts expect that Murdoch’s sprawling media empire will find lots of additional ways to hawk its wares before, after and during the big game.
“I think they’ll use it to promote their whole lineup, even ‘American Idol,’” programming analyst Adgate said.
Ironically, the pollinating of brands from across the News Corp empire on Super Bowl Sunday comes as corporate synergy in media monoliths has become a limp afterthought.
And if it works as planned, Fox's efforts might also provide a blueprint for other media giants, such as Comcast, seeking to capitalize on broadcast, cable and homegrown content.
“It will be interesting for Comcast to look and see how they can better align their NBC and Universal assets,” Laurence Vincent, group director, strategy, for Siegel +Gale, told TheWrap. “What I like about what Fox typically does is that they layer it. They play O’Reilly and ‘Glee’ off a central event like the Super Bowl, but they don’t hit you over the head with their brands and wear you out.”
Of course, capitalizing on a must-see television event is nothing new. Last year, CBS turned its broadcast of the Bowl into an extended promo for “CSI” and used the rating bump to successfully launch the reality show “Undercover Boss.”
But industry experts say Fox is doing it more deftly than its competitors.
“I think they’re one of the best in the industry. They’re particularly skilled when it comes to their traditional media assets such as broadcasting,” Vincent said.
Beyond a chance to showcase the panoply of News Corp. assets, there’s real money to be made.
Last year’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts became the most-watched American television program in history, drawing an average audience of 106.5 million viewers.
Better yet, ad sales and rates have rebounded with the economy. By September of last year, Fox had sold up to 90 percent of its commercial space, whereas CBS had filled only 70 percent of its ad space at the same point in 2009.
According to TNS Media, prices for ads on last year’s Bowl dipped to between $2.5 and $2.8 million a pop, but this year they are likely to match 2009’s peak of $3 million for a 30 second spot.
Not that the rights to game days come cheap. For the privilege of broadcasting various regular season and playoff games, ESPN pays $1.1 billion dollars annually, Fox pays $720 million, NBC plays $630 million, and CBS pays $620 million.
That could be a small price to pay if Fox is able to use its huge Super Bowl lead-in to score monster ratings for “Glee”s’ mid-season launch or get audiences stoked for “Rio.”
“I don’t mean to speak for [Fox Entertainment President] Kevin Reilly, but the entertainment executives know how valuable this piece of property is. ‘Glee’ is already one of the top shows on TV, and it has such a strong brand now. But not only does it deserve a Super Bowl spot, it can use it to go to the next level,” Bell told TheWrap.
And if the plan works — Touchdown!
Daniel Frankel contributed to this report.