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CBS Snags Eight Thursday Night NFL Games

Eye Network Joins NBC Among Broadcasters With Prime-Time NFL

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CBS has secured the rights to an eight-game package of Thursday Night Football, the broadcaster said on Wednesday.

CBS will air eight early-season games in the 2014 season, games that will also be simulcast on the NFL Network. The NFL has the option to extend the agreement for an additional season.

The NFL Network will also run eight late-season Thursday night games in the run-up to next season's playoffs.

CBS becomes the second broadcast network with prime-time NFL games, joining NBC and its Sunday Night Football. CBS and Fox show games on Sunday afternoons. ABC remains the only broadcast channel without any NFL games, although its cable sibling, ESPN, has Monday Night Football.

CBS' win is also hiccup for Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network, which reportedly also bid on the Thursday night package. Without many more live major sports rights in play any time soon, adding Thursday night NFL games could have been a major coup for one of the fledgling cable channels.

Thursday night is already one of CBS' most powerful programming nights, with a comedy block that includes "The Big Bang Theory" and new hit "The Millers."

That suggests the deal is a defense move, according to Todd Juenger, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Research.

"This deal hampers their ability to launch and maintain their entertainment lineup, which in turn puts their syndication pipeline at risk," Mr. Juenger wrote in a research note. "Advertising upside doesn't seem that big, and certainly the incremental lift to CBS is less than it would be to anybody else."

Adding the NFL on Thursday nights doesn't help the network's leverage in negotiations with cable and satellite carriers, either, because the games are also running on the NFL Network, Mr. Juenger wrote. "Why else would CBS pay as much as $800 million to displace it's No. 1 primetime entertainment lineup, on Thursday night which is the most important ad revenue night of the week? They must be concerned with trying to keep these games from ending up on a competitive network, which they feared would significantly damage their Thursday night audiences and ad revenue."

Mr. Juenger noted that Fox's ability to launch its fall primetime schedule has been hampered by the World Series, "which continually interrupts the flow and continuity."

UBS analyst John Janedis predicted that CBS will move "Big Bang Theory," and possibly "Two and a Half Men" and "Elementary," to Monday nights during the NFL games.

"This will allow for fewer repeats of the schedule during the broadcast season and ample promotion of the network during the games," Mr. Janedis wrote in a research note.

While CBS did not reveal economic details of the deal, Mr. Janedis said he expects CBS will book the ad revenue while NFL will collect the rights fees.

A CBS spokesman declined to comment on the future of the Thursday night schedule.

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