News

Cable to offer Super Bowl halftime alternatives

For fans unmoved by the prospect of a Tom Petty Super Bowl halftime show, the cable industry has an answer. Many answers, in fact.

There are grown men stuffing themselves with eggs and ham. There's Deion Sanders skirmishing with his wife over household chores. There are kittens squaring off on a football field.

After five years of letting the Super Bowl halftime show air pretty much uncontested, networks are again taking aim at the extravaganza. Sensing vulnerability in the NFL's decision to cast the rock musician known for "Free Fallin"' and "American Girl" as its headline entertainment, nets are in a counter-programming frenzy.

"We see an opportunity at halftime because young viewers may not be into watching a musical performance suited to older guys," Spike TV representative David Schwarz said. "To get the competitive juices flowing, we have a better idea."

Spike's idea is to show an eating contest featuring the likes of Eater X, Tim "Gravy" Brown and rising star (in the eating world, anyway) Joey Chesnut. Spike will telecast an undercard of hard-boiled-egg consumption (world record: 65) as well as a ham-eating main event. The network will cut to the competition as soon as the first-half Super Bowl whistle blows on FOX.

Sneak peak at ‘Love’Oxygen will premiere the first episode of reality series "Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love," in which viewers peek into the home life of flamboyant former athlete Deion Sanders more than two months ahead of the series' debut.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Neil P. Mockford / GC Images

    Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

  • Image: Celebrity Sightings On The Set Of 'A Hundred Streets' - August 8, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Idris Elba

    Actor Idris Elba seen on the set of :A Hundred Streets" on Aug. 8 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass

    Actors Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass arrive at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of RADiUS-TWC's "The One I Love" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nick Kroll

    Actor Nick Kroll arrives at the premiere of RADIUS-TWC's "The One I Love" at the Vista Theatre on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Damon Wayans Jr., Jake Johnson

    Actors Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson arrive at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Cast member D'Arcy poses at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" in Hollywood

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James D'Arcy

    James D'Arcy arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Image: BESTPIX: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Julianne Hough

    Actress Julianne Hough arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Arrivals

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Hannah Simone

    Actress Hannah Simone arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Premiere Of Twentieth Century Fox's "Let's Be Cops" - Red Carpet

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nina Dobrev

    Actress Nina Dobrev arrives at the premiere of "Let's Be Cops" at the Cinerama Dome on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Murphy, Brandy Norwood

    TV personality Nicole Murphy and singer Brandy Norwood attend The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Tara Reid

    Actress Tara Reid attends The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    James Wirt, Julia Stiles

    Actors James Wirt and Julia Stiles stand on stage during the opening night curtain call for "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: "Phoenix" Opening Night

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    AnnaSophia Robb

    Actress AnnaSophia Robb attends the opening night performance of "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Madame Tussauds New York To Unveil New, Never-Before-Seen Selena Gomez Wax Figure

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Selena Gomez

    A boy gives the wax figure of Selena Gomez a kiss at the unveiling of the new new, never-before-seen Selena Gomez wax figure at Madame Tussauds New York on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Chris Martin Visits "The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Chris Martin

    Chris Martin of Coldplay performs during the Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show at Z100 Studio on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: BESTPIX: Apple Store Soho Presents: Meet the Actors: Michael Fassbender And Domhnall Gleeson - "Frank"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Michael Fassbender

    Actor Michael Fassbender attends "Meet the Actor" at Apple Store Soho on Aug. 7 in New York.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Mickey Rourke

    Actor Mickey Rourke is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Jordana Brewster

    Actress Jordana Brewster waves outisde of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: G. Garvin Live

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Keshia Knight Pulliam

    Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam attends G. Garvin Live at Buckhead Theatre on Aug. 7 in Atlanta.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Reese Witherspoon

    Actress Reese Witherspoon is seen on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Miley Cyrus

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Miley Cyrus

    Singer Miley Cyrus performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: 67th Locarno Film Festival - Day 2

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Melanie Griffith

    Actress Melanie Griffith attends a press conference during the 67th Locarno Film Festival on Aug. 7 in Locarno, Switzerland.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Lily Allen

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Lily Allen

    Singer Lily Allen performs in concert at Bridgestone Arena on Aug. 7 in Nashville.

    AP / AP
  • Image: "The Expendables 3" Paris Photocall At Cinema UGC Normandie

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    'Expendables 3'

    The stars of "Expendables 3," from left, Kellan Lutz, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes attend "Expendables 3" at Cinema UGC Normandie on Aug. 7 in Paris.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Meet The FilmMakers: "The Rover"

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Robert Pattinson

    Actor Robert Pattinson speaks during the Meet The Filmmakers event for "The Rover" at Apple Store, Regent Street on Aug. 7 in London.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Celebrity Sightings In New York City - August 07, 2014

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman

    Actors Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman are spotted filming Bateman's "The Family Fang" in Westchester, New York, on Aug. 7.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Africa: New Partnership Models For Growth

    Celebrity Sightings

    of

    Akon

    Grammy-nominated artist Akon, who is the founder of Akon Lighting Africa Project, discusses at the US-Africa Leaders Summit "Africa: New Parnership Models for Growth" news conference, held in Washington, DC, on Aug. 7, the progress that African heads of state have made.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

Like Spike, Oxygen will cut in to its regularly scheduled programming at the start of halftime and air the 22-minute show commercial free, in time for viewers to get back to the second half. "We have one of the biggest stars the NFL has ever turned out on our airwaves," Oxygen general manager Jason Klarman said. "A lot of people will be interested in both the game and in Deion."

Animal Planet, which for the past few years has aired the Puppy Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, has begun to take it one step further — it's airing its own halftime show, a kitten bowl, during halftime of the Puppy Bowl, roughly timing it to coincide with halftime of the game featuring humans.

Halftime counter-programming attempts to tap into those who are watching the game but are hungry for something besides the packaged musical performances the NFL stages. It works on a kind of golden-crumbs assumption: When you're starting with a base of more than 90 million viewers, even a small number of those viewers will provide one of your biggest audiences of the year.

It's an experiment the networks have attempted intermittently but stopped for in recent years because of corporate conflicts.

In 1992, FOX surprised CBS with a competing "In Living Color" special that garnered more than 20 million viewers, a significant portion of the Super Bowl audience. As recently as 2003, NBC had a rival "Weekend Update" broadcast with Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey that attracted sizable numbers. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Piece of the pieBut since their gambits, Fox and NBC have acquired a piece of the NFL rights package. Leeching off viewers during the NFL's flagship game doesn't exactly sit well with the league, so the nets stopped. Even ABC, the only Big Four broadcast network not in the Super Bowl rotation, is in business with the NFL via corporate sibling ESPN, so it's sitting out halftime.

With a burst of original programming and a maverick sensibility, though, cable is able to step into the breach — but not without some touchiness.

Oxygen, for instance, is now owned by NBC, which has a lucrative Sunday night deal with the NFL. The presence of Sanders makes it especially sensitive. A producer of his reality show, Sanders isn't just a former pro football player — he's an employee of the NFL via his studio gig on the NFL Network.

An NFL spokesperson downplayed the effect of the competition. "Everyone has the right to counter program, but we're confident the majority of viewers will stay tuned to Fox," the rep said, pointing out that younger viewers might be aware of Petty from games like "Guitar Hero." "These shows are more likely a PR gimmick than a revenue-generating opportunity."

The league also points to a traditionally high retention rate for the halftime show; last year, CBS averaged only about a 3 percent drop-off during its halftime show, which was anchored by Prince.

Still, cable execs think they can offer something more relatable than the highly skilled game on the field. "We're not trying to upset the NFL; we're just cashing in on an opportunity," Spike's Schwarz said. "For most of us, you can't go out there and play football. But you sure as hell can go and eat a couple dozen eggs and a ham."

TOP