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SUPER BOWL/SUPER BUSINESS | CNNSI.com COVERAGE | INSIDE THE NFL
Playmates vs. players
graphic February 1, 2002: 1:03 p.m. ET

NBC looks to steal Fox's Super Bowl XXXVI-inclined viewers.
By Staff Writer Andrew Stein
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  • Where NFL, Wall St. meet - Jan. 25, 2002
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  • Fear Factor
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    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - A bunch of middle-aged rock stars playing old songs at a stadium or buxom Playmates doing stunts in wet bikinis. Which would you rather watch on a cold Sunday night?

    NBC producers think they have the right answer this year. The network is planning to steal male eyes from rival Fox during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVI by pitting a version of its "Fear Factor" featuring Playboy's Miss July 1996, Miss March 1996, Miss February 2001, Miss January 2002, the 1995 Playmate of the Year and the 1996 Playmate of the Year against Fox's first-half highlights and a concert by rock band U2.

    The Super Bowl "Fear Factor" will be a 90-minute show, with 20 minutes airing during halftime and the entire show broadcast again following the game.

    But for those who can't wait until after the game, viewers will be invited to a live chat with "Fear Factor" Playmates Lauren Michelle Hill, Nicole Narain and Julie Cialini on MSN.com.

    The special edition of "Fear Factor," where contestants can win cash by performing dangerous stunts or eating things like live insects, sheep eyes or pig rectums, is a break from past programming when networks usually "tried to avoid the other guy's big guns and hunker down with counter-programming," said Richard Read, media analyst with Credit Lyonnais Securities.

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    Fear Factor show host Joe Rogan takes playmate Angel Boris through a show segment called "Escape Ice."
    The other networks are sticking to the counter-programming strategy. ABC will take a page from its corporate parent, Disney, and run "Pocahontas," aiming for families with smaller children. CBS, a unit of Viacom, will run "60 Minutes II."

    One analyst sees NBC's attempt at pulling in the Super Bowl audience as a developing trend.

    "Before the proliferation of cable, the other networks would just give up," said David Miller, media analyst with Sanders Morris Harris. "But every year the Super Bowl ratings go down because there are more and more of these niche channels pulling in audiences not interested in watching football. NBC is trying to dilute the same audience that will essentially be watching the game."

    Indeed, NBC is promoting the special edition of "Fear Factor" with the tag line "who needs football when we've got bunnies?"

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    Will the Britney commercials be enough to keep eyes on Fox?
    One indication of the Super Bowl's declining audience is the fall in advertising rates. Fox is taking in about $1.9 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot, the lowest amount in the last two years, according to Advertising Age.

    But Fox remains undeterred by the lure of the Playmates. "Will people use their remotes during halftime? Probably, but we have a tremendous show this year," said Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio. "This is not the first time something like this has been planned. The Super Bowl ratings have been solid for a decade and we don't expect that to change."

    For those ready to turn to the Playmates and forget the game at halftime, be forewarned that Fox will be airing a scantily clad woman of its own.

    Fox will run a Pepsi commercial featuring pop diva Britney Spears progressing through six generations of Pepsi bliss. Those interested can log onto the Pepsi Web site and vote for their favorite Britney generation, and a 30-second spot featuring the winning decade will run during the second half of the game.

    Besides the Britney commercials, Fox has some other things going for it, namely the second half of the game. "The NBC show will probably be a little counter productive if it's a close game," said Read.

    But NBC is betting on the side of history, and most likely the St. Louis Rams. The average lead at halftime in the last 10 Super Bowls has been 9.6 points, and the bookmakers have already made the Rams 14.5-point favorites over the New England Patriots.

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    The two teams are also from mid-market regions, which doesn't help ratings either, says Miller. "Fox would be drooling if the game was Oakland against New York, but these are two middle-market teams."

    Super Bowl XXXVI will also be the last game of Fox commentator Pat Summerall. That may interest diehard football fans, but if the game is a blowout, the Bunnies and NBC may end up sitting pretty. graphic

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