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CBS may be out of the Sunday afternoon football business, but agency media buyers say it will still be the team to beat on Sunday nights.

In fact, the confidence with which buyers predict CBS's top-rated Sunday night lineup will persevere despite losing its National Football League lead-in to Fox challenges the notion of football viewers staying tuned to Fox once the games end.

"Sure, `60 Minutes' has always benefited from NFL overruns on CBS, but after 26 seasons-16 of them in the top 10-`60 Minutes' has established a beachhead on Sunday night. It's become appointment TV," says Bob Silberberg, exec VP-director of national broadcast, Bates Worldwide, New York.

Mr. Silberberg admits football games that run past their scheduled end of 7 p.m. (Eastern time) might nibble away at the audiences for "60 Minutes."

However, he emphasizes,"it's not like people are just going to forget all about `60 Minutes' and `Murder, She Wrote,' especially its older constituency, which has no other place to go."

Steve Sternberg, senior VP-broadcast research at Bozell, New York, says "60 Minutes" will lose 1 share point, at most, to Fox.

"Look, there's no reason to believe people won't switch over after the game is over, maybe even sooner if the game's a blow-out," he says. "And `60 Minutes' has a segmented structure, making it easier [for viewers] to just jump in the middle of the show."

Also making it easier for "60 Minutes" is that Fox's 7 p.m. show, the young, male-skewing action adventure "Fortune Hunter," failed to impress ad agency executives at Fox's new-show presentation last month.

Media buyers estimated only a 7 share for "Fortune Hunter," while predicting "60 Minutes" will get a 32 share and finish next season the No.*2 program, behind ABC's "Home Improvement."

"Murder, She Wrote" will face stiffer competition next year from Fox, however.

The upstart network will move "The Simpsons," its highest-rated show for the just-finished season, from Thursday at 8 p.m. to Sunday at 8 p.m. The animated series will receive extra promotional pushes during NFL broadcasts.

Still, the young-skewing "Simpsons" may more likely steal viewers away from ABC's "Lois & Clark" and NBC's "SeaQuest DSV" than the older-skewing "Murder, She Wrote."

Agency media buyers predict "Murder, She Wrote" will tally a 26 share; Fox's hour of "Simpsons" and new "Hardball" will combine for an 18 share; "Lois & Clark" will nab a 15 share while NBC's "SeaQuest" will finish with a 13 share.

It remains to be seen how CBS will replace its Sunday afternoon NFL broadcasts.

There's been much talk of an advertiser-owned football league, but that won't arrive until next year-if at all.

For this season, CBS is mulling theatrical movies, figure-skating specials, and track and field events.

While whatever it broadcasts won't rake in ratings and advertising revenues like the NFL, the network can still make something out of it, executives say. "I don't think [CBS] should throw up its hands and concede," says Mr. Silberberg. "A network doesn't have to win a time period to make money."

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