NFL wild-card games show potential for alternate broadcasts

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Virtual slime cannons go off in the end zone after a touchdown during Nickelodeon's kid-focused broadcast of the NFL wild-card playoff game between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021 in New Orleans. The positive reviews for Nickelodeon's kids-focused broadcast of last Sunday's NFL playoff game showed the potential of alternate broadcasts of sporting events. The success of that broadcast has led to many wondering what other sports it could expand to and when we might see it again in the NFL? (CBS/Viacom via AP)

LOS ANGELES – Brian Robbins directed “Varsity Blues” and was the producer of “Coach Carter,” but both of those might have been eclipsed last Sunday with Nickelodeon's successful kids-oriented broadcast of an NFL playoff game.

Even a couple days after last Sunday's game, the president of Nickelodeon as well as everyone associated with the broadcast are still receiving accolades.

“I felt good going into the game about our ideas to make the day watchable for kids and families together. I felt good about the talent,” Robbins said. “The thing that surprised me was the enthusiasm from all over the planet about what a great thing it was. I think it was a breath of fresh air at the right time.”

The New Orleans Saints' 21-9 victory over the Chicago Bears was the most-watched game of wild card weekend, averaging 30.65 million viewers. In an age when even debates about favorite foods draw debate, the 2 billion impressions on social media was overwhelmingly positive. Nickelodeon was Twitter's No. 1 trending topic during the game, and #NickWildCard and Spongebob were in the top 10.

The Nickelodeon presentation not only provided a template on doing alternate broadcasts. It is also likely to usher in more additional broadcasts to the same event.

CBS and Nickelodeon weren't the only ones to use multiple networks during Sunday's playoff games. ESPN deployed its MegaCast treatment for an NFL postseason game for the first time and NBC used the Peacock streaming service that included a dedicated postgame show.

“I applaud everyone's creativity,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. “We’re all trying to reach and expand our audiences. You have to work hard to reach them and use as many platforms to accomplish that. There is a lot of competition whether it is news or sports.”

Tag Garson, the senior vice president of properties at Wasserman, has long been a proponent of alternate broadcasts going back to his days at ESPN because viewers, especially younger ones, continue to be more fragmented by the way they watch and consume various types of content.