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In Broadcast programming, counterprogramming is the practice of offering television programs to attract an audience from another television station airing a major event. It is also referred when programmers offer something different from the rival’s program as an alternative, to increase the audience size.
The Super Bowl, being among the most watched sports television events in the United States, became a notable target of counterprogramming during the 1990s due to its previous halftime shows; which critics felt were dated and not representative of modern pop culture. During Super Bowl XXVI, Fox aired a live, football-themed episode of In Living Color against halftime; the special drew 22 million viewers; Nielsen estimated that CBS lost 10 ratings points during halftime as a result of the special.
The success of the special alarmed the National Football League, who took steps to increase interest and viewership of the halftime show by inviting major pop musicians to perform, beginning with Michael Jackson at Super Bowl XXVII. This pattern continued until 2005, when an incident at Super Bowl XXXVIII's halftime show (where Justin Timberlake exposed a breast of Janet Jackson) resulted in a string of halftime shows with classic rock acts, such as The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, in an effort to prevent such an incident from occurring again. Despite Michael Jackson's performance helping to increase interest in subsequent halftime shows, Fox's success inspired imitators, and influenced other specials such as Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl (featuring dogs playing in a model football stadium), and the Lingerie Bowl, a series of pay-per-view broadcasts of all-female football games played in lingerie—proving popular enough to be spun off into its own Lingerie Football League.
Out of respect, the two remaining networks of the three who regularly air NFL games (CBS, Fox, and NBC; who also alternate airing the Super Bowl on a yearly cycle) will typically not schedule any new programming (nor air counterprogramming) on the night of the Super Bowl. Fox itself provided an exception in 2010, airing two new episodes of 'Til Death against Super Bowl XLIV; however, the network had been in the process of burning off the low-rated sitcom so its distributor would have enough episodes to syndicate it.
In 2007, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California was held on the same day as the Academy Awards, although it was held during the early afternoon local time, and scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. PT start. The 2008 Auto Club 500 was plagued by rain delays and unintentionally aired against a portion of the ceremony; delays pushed its start time to around 3:00 p.m. PT (6:00 p.m. ET), while the race itself was halted again at around 6:00 p.m. PT (9:00 p.m. ET). In 2009, the race was intentionally scheduled for a 3:00 p.m. PT start, which would overlap into the telecast of the 81st Academy Awards. Fox Sports' senior vice president of programming and research Bill Wanger supported the idea, believing that NASCAR races "[could] hold their own against any competition", and that the two events were predominantly viewed by males and females respectively.
For a number of years, the championship game of the NCAA Final Four aired on the day of the Academy Awards ceremony, leading into the primetime. The 1976 NCAA Final Four, broadcast on NBC, ended with the Indiana Hoosiers defeating the Michigan Wolverines, 86-68; the game ended just as the Best Film Editing Oscar was about to the announced. That year's Academy Awards ceremony acknowledged its competition when the final score of the game was announced before Verna Fields was announced as the winner of the award. By the time CBS had taken over broadcasting the NCAA Final Four, the Academy Awards ceremony had by now taken place the week before the Final Four, and has since moved well away into mid or late February due to ABC's want to have the awards take place during the February sweeps period, along with the general consolidation of the film awards season into a shorter period.
NBC has occasionally counterprogrammed against the Academy Awards with Shrek, especially in years in which it has aired the Super Bowl since the NFL returned to the network during the 2006-07 TV season.
TNT aired the 2012 NBA All-Star Game opposite the 84th Academy Awards. However, ratings that year's Oscar ceremony drew an estimated 39.3 million viewers, a 4% increase over the previous year. Conversely, viewership for the All Star Game measured at 7.1 million, a 22% decline from last year's 9.1 million.
NBC, the long-time broadcaster of the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks in New York City, has historically aired an encore presentation of the show at 10:00 PM ET/PT, immediately following its live broadcast. However, the Boston Pops Orchestra's own concert and fireworks special on CBS also aired live at the same time—while NBC denied that this was the case (and was for budgetary reasons instead), Boston Pops executive producer David G. Mugar believed that NBC had done so to intentionally pull viewers away from the Boston Pops (resulting in a loss of 1 million viewers for 2012, and causing CBS to cancel its national broadcast of the event for 2013; the concert is still aired in full, as before, by local affiliate WBZ-TV).
In college football competing networks will often change the kickoff times of high-profile games at the same time as other high-profile games in an attempt to draw viewers away from other games. For example, in week 14 of the 2010 season the kick off time of The Civil War game between #1 Oregon and Oregon State was changed to 3:30 p.m. EST and shown on ABC in the afternoon college football block; this was done in an attempt to lure viewers from the SEC Championship Game, that kicked off at 4:00 p.m. EST pitting the #18 South Carolina Gamecocks against the #2 Auburn Tigers. This attempt failed, though, as Oregon would go on to win by 17 points and the SEC championship had 10.2 million viewers, the second most viewed game of the year.
- Uribe, Rodrigo; Buzeta, Cristian; Hurtado, Daniel (2011). "Looking for the audiences: The effect of using partial counterprogramming and a friendlier style of news presentation". INNOVAR 21 (42): 151–159. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
- Williams, Doug. "When Up With People dominated halftime". ESPN.com. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
- "Goal of spectacle colors NFL's thinking about Super Bowl halftime show". Chicago Tribune. 6 February 2011. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- Sandomir, Richard (30 June 2009). "How Jackson Redefined the Super Bowl". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
- Mitchell, Houston (11 January 2013). "Lingerie Football League changes name; players to wear uniforms". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- "Fox finally finds a way to kill "‘Til Death"". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
- "TV ratings: Super Bowl on pace for a record audience". Zap2It. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
- "Stars won't pay attention to race during Oscars". ESPN. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
- "Running out of chances in California". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
- "NASCAR going head-to-head with Oscars". U-T San Diego. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
- NBA All-Star Game's 7.1 Million Viewers Down 22% From Telecast In '11
- Powers, Martine; Moskowitz, Eric (June 15, 2013). "July 4 fireworks gala loses its national pop". The Boston Globe. Retrieved June 16, 2013.