NBC will spend for a timeout -- respite in Super Bowl hype

It could be one of the most talked about and costly minutes of television time -- and it's not for sale at any price. Dubbed an ``intermission'' by the network brass at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), it's a 60-second segment of time slated for the pregame warmup leading to Super Bowl XX between the New England Patriots and the Chicago Bears. In that minute, there will be no commercials, probably just a ticking clock to give viewers a break from the proceedings.

It's all part of the super television event NBC will telecast Sunday afternoon, Jan. 26, from the New Orleans Superdome to a nationwide audience of as many as 120 million viewers via its 207 affiliated stations and millions more by satellite around the world.

The entire event starts at 3 p.m. (Eastern standard time), including a two-hour pregame show, and is expected to last some 71/2 to 8 hours. The 60-second intermission during the pregame show was announced by NBC as a refreshing timeout for viewers to get set for the thrills and excitement of the long game to follow. NBC has not disclosed exactly what it will broadcast during the intermission, but it is expected to include a ticking clock and perhaps the National Football League or NBC logo, with appropriate music.

Clock and timepiece manufacturers as well as other commercial interests have offered to supply timing mechanisms or other distractions in exchange for mention of their names. But NBC claims to have turned down all offers.

The benefits or disadvantages of this one-minute break have been hotly debated by ad pros and media experts -- particularly in terms of how it will affect the viewing of commercials during Super Bowl XX. Some see it as the ultimate hype and worth its weight in gold, because of the additional interest it has generated for the pregame show.

Credit for dreaming up the one-minute intermission goes to Michael Weisman, NBC Sports executive producer for Super Bowl XX. ``It's designed to give people a break and at the same time poke a little bit of fun at ourselves, the television networks, and the whole Super Bowl hype,'' Mr. Weisman says.

Whether it's a stroke of promotional genius or a costly giveaway is debatable. Not debated is NBC's success in selling the Super Bowl to advertisers at the highest prices ever -- $550,000 for a 30-second spot, or 10 percent more than last year's record-breaking million-dollar minutes. NBC reports that all 25 minutes of commercial time during the Super Bowl broadcast were sold out more than two months ago, for a gross of $27.5 million.

``There were no deals made for the game itself,'' claims Robert C. Blackmore, director of network sales at NBC-TV. For this Super Bowl, Mr. Blackmore indicated, NBC sought new advertisers rather than some of the old ones who were complaining about increased costs. The result is that more than half of the 30-second spots will be sponsored by advertisers not in 1984's Super Bowl, including Burger King, Minolta, and Nissan.

N. W. Ayer's director of programming and network negotiations, Bob Igiel, commented that the news media have greatly overblown the cost of commercial time on Super Bowl XX as an issue. ``My feelings are that for advertisers who want the exposure, the Super Bowl offers an excellent vehicle, particularly for those planning national introductions of new products.

``This year, the football audience is back and NBC can look forward to good ratings for Super Bowl XX. Although the prices of commercials are high, they still represent a reasonable value.''

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