The Man With The Most To Lose In The Super Bowl?

You might think that the person with the most pressure going into Super Bowl 58 might be someone like 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, a brilliant tactician who has let to win a championship to join his dad Mike in that pantheon.  Or his Chiefs counterpart, Andy Reid, who is looking for his third such ring, an achievement that would vaunt him into the Top 5 all-time in that category.  Or even his wide receiver, Travis Kelce, enjoying perhaps his best post-season to date en route to setting all-time records and still having enough stamina to keep up a relationship that isn’t exactly private.

I’d argue that a man who is likely under even more pressure and scrutiny than any of them would be CBS’ current President and Chief Marketing Officer Michael Benson.  For all of the attention and publicity those that are paying for ads in this game will receive, it’s arguable that there is no more valuable commodity that will be advertised than the shows and brands that will be left to carry on the torch for the network after the game is over.  The inventory that’s being devoted to those efforts, many of which will have premium “A” pod positions immediately adjacent to the game is potentially worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  And, as we know, the network itself is clearly up for sale.

And based upon the way the trajectory for post-season football viewership is going, Benson’s very likely to have at his disposal the all-time viewership record of any televised event in history.   SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL’s ever-intuitive Austin Karp dropped these nuggets late yesterday afternoon that underscores why I have such confidence in my otherwise outlandish prediction:

Numbers are trickling in from NFL Championship Sunday, and count Fox as an early winner. 

The network drew 56.7 million viewers for the 49ers’ comeback win over the Lions, per fast national data. That’s going to mark the best NFC Championship game since 2012, when Fox drew 57.6 million in prime time for Giants-49ers. Sunday night’s game peaked at 59 million viewers in the 9:15pm ET quarter hour. 

And bear in mind, that didn’t have all that many Swifties as part of it, nor did it have as prominent a digital footprint as the vaunted Paramount Plus in the mix.  Nor a Slime-ulcast on Nickelodeon.  So yep, I’m being VERY bullish in predicting we will discover two weeks from today that CBS will now have the record for both the highest-rated (sorry, in today’s splintered environment a rating higher than the M*A*S*H finale’s 60.3 is simply not possible) and most-viewed prime time telecasts in history.

But I’m one of the rare ones who actually do see a lot of current promos for CBS.   I’ve seen a lot of Mike Benson’s work over the years.  Both have done a lot better in their respective pasts.

Mike previously oversaw marketing for ABC for a 12-year period from 1998-2010, and also had a five-year run doing similar work for Amazon Prime.  At ABC, by his own description, he “revolutionalized” the palette of on-air advertising by making heavy use of the color yellow.  In fact, when I met with him when I was under consideration to head research for Amazon he added that “no network had ever used the color yellow in its campaigns, and we were able to take full advantage of its appeal”.  When I meekly asked if the banana that appeared in one of the ads for BOB ROBERTS was an example of that, his face turned several shades of red.

Not long after that meeting, he oversaw a campaign for the Amazon series THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE that produced this memorable event, ironically reported by CBS News:

 A set of controversial subway ads featuring what appear to be Nazi symbols has been removed, following a livid response.

Earlier reports had said Amazon had pulled the ads, but sources later told CBS2 the company was not behind the decision. Sources claimed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pulled the ads, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s the holiday season, to show people what could be really revolting symbols to them and bring back bad memories is not worth selling more viewership on their show, Cuomo said. “And I would call on them to take the ad down.”

I have heard that the viewership for that first season of HIGH CASTLE was a record for Prime at that time, but that was the winter of 2015, when the bar was much lower than it is now.  And since it had no advertisers in it, Amazon never felt any responsibility then or since to actually share those figures publicly.

None’s such the case now.  And the harsh reality is that even in success, most promo campaigns fail to convert most of its viewers to actually sample the shows they are touting.  The statistics that show actual duplication between those that watched a spot and those that watched a premiere episode are telling.  Rarely is there a direct correlation between a plurality of any show’s audience and the on-air campaigns that eschew all of that ad money in their attempt to goose the numbers to what advertisers might want.  With such a record audience coming in from so many other atypical sources, the likelihood of that proportion being even that good is a prop bet not even Vegas would touch.

One would think that CBS would have something HUGE planned, something as potentially impactful and hopefully a bit more tasteful than what Amazon emblazoned on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle eight winters ago.  For the moment, that doesn’t appear to be the case.  I’ve personally heard an awful lot of promos for the return of the network’s Monday night comedies, which will have the greatest statistical chance of any immediate impact due to its proximity to the actual game.  Benson’s been using a cover of a nearly 60-year song from a group called THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS.  Here, Swifties, here’s what we used to call “pop” music.

Mike’s now been at CBS as long as he has been at Amazon.  One of what he considers to be his greatest accomplishments was the “rebranding” and pivoting of the CBS look to a more consistent corporate look, eschewing the iconic Eye logo that identified the network for decades, even going back to the era when the MAMAS AND THE PAPAS were on its Sunday night lineup.  I suppose there’s research that might support that decision.  Maybe it’s locked in the same drawer with the viewership numbers on MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

Perhaps I’m being a tad too harsh on Mr. Benson.  After all, he’s not the one making the shows, nor is he the one that is holding the fate of his own future in his hands.  At this point, that’s his ultimate boss Shari Redstone and perhaps a couple of guys named David (Ellison and Zaslav).  I’m sure they’ll be watching the game.  And I suspect at least one of them has heard of Cass Elliott.

So maybe there is a method to this particular madness, and perhaps the mood for who’s still around Black Rock and the scattered lots around Los Angeles where the various pieces of the Paramount International are housed, at least for now, may eventually be ebullient.  Maybe Benson comes out of this a hero, or at least a martyr with a huge payout.  Or, perhaps at least with a few pointers and insights to take into account when he prepares his resume reel.

So good luck, Mr. Yellow.  The world–at least more of it than have seen any of your previous works at one time–will be watching.  No pressure. 🙂

Until next time…


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