CBS Sports, ESPN Expand Masters Online Presence
By Carolyn Braff
This year marks CBS Sports’ 54th consecutive telecast of the Masters, but the network is making changes to keep the world’s most prestigious golf tournament relevant to younger fans in the digital age. An increased online presence, expanded DIRECTV offerings, and even a CableCam mixed into the coverage are all designed to bring the magic of the 73rd Masters to the next generation of golf fans.
The coverage begins from the Augusta National Golf Club on Wednesday with the Par 3 Tournament that will be produced by CBS but air on ESPN and ESPN360.com. With help from The Masters, both ESPN and CBS are committed to enhancing digital online coverage this year.
“We will be continuing to work with the Masters to provide content on the digital spectrum to reach a younger audience, which is clearly an objective for all of us,” explains John Wildhack, executive vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN. “Last year, we were able to increase the young demographic in extraordinary fashion versus 2007 and we hope to build off of that. The objective of the Masters is to continue to make their presentation unique.”
Making that presentation truly unique this year is the addition of a Fly Cam, which CBS will rig for use during Wednesday’s Par 3 Tournament coverage.
“We’re calling it Fly Cam but it’s like a CableCam that we would have at a football game,” explains Lance Barrow, coordinating producer for CBS golf. “That will be over the pond that they have in front of the ninth hole. We’ve also beefed up our camera usage on the Par 3, but the Fly Cam is the exciting new innovation that we’ve brought. It will be fun to have it there with that camera not only showing golf, but everything that’s going on in and around the Par 3 tournament.”
Several of the golfers have promised to aim to hit the camera, but Barrow is confident that Fly Cam is too low-hanging for the golfers to succeed.
Although the camera will be used only on ESPN’s telecasts, if the angle is a success, CBS may soon integrate it into future broadcasts.
“CBS and ESPN come up with these ideas mutually, and we work with the club as well,” explains Harold Bryant, senior vice president of production for CBS. “On the actual course, we don’t have a place that we’re going to test the camera just yet. It’s something we’ll look at in the future, but right now the Par 3 course is so compact it works perfectly there.”
Once the tournament gets underway, the digital push continues across broadband platforms. Thursday and Friday’s first and second rounds” also broadcast by ESPN” will be simulcast on ESPN360.com, and three additional channels of broadband video can be found on the Masters Live portal at Masters.com. The channels, produced by CBS Sports, include Amen Corner Live, featuring live streaming video from the 11th, 12th and 13th holes; 15 & 16 Live, which focuses on the 15th and 16th holes; and Masters Extra, which provides video of the entire field for one hour before television coverage begins. A Masters Live recap show will also be available live and on demand following Saturday and Sunday’s coverage.
In all, Masters Live will provide more than 48 hours of video between April 9 and 12 and this year and golf fans will have the chance to watch that video in higher quality. An enhanced video stream will allow users to upgrade their experience from the standard 800 kbps experience to 1.2 Mbps. All the video is available for free at CBSSports.com, Masters.com, and across the CBS Audience Network, which consists of 200 Websites including as AOL, Fancast, and Yahoo!.
On the TV side, CBS has revamped its highlight channel on DIRECTV. In addition to channels dedicated to Amen Corner and Holes 15 and 16, the Masters In-Depth channel will feature live updates, scoreboards, player interviews, and quick-turnaround highlight packages.
“Last year the channel had packages that were taped and shown 20-30 minutes later,” Bryant explains. “We’re going to keep this year’s version as immediate and live as possible.”
The entire tournament will once again be produced in 1080i HD (airing in 1080i on CBS and 720p on ESPN), with the feed down-converted for analog broadcast, but for CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus, the focus at Augusta has become multi-media.
“No other sporting event has as much different media coverage on as many different platforms as the Masters does,” McManus explains. “If you look at the enormous amount of media exposure this tournament now gets” the DIRECTV package, the live Amen Corner coverage, Masters Extra, the Webcasts we do before we come on the air on Saturday and Sunday, the coverage of the Par 3 contest” I give the people at Augusta National a lot of credit for really pushing us and pushing this event into such media exposure.”
That media exposure gets underway on Wednesday April 8, with the Par 3 Tournament on ESPN and ESPN360.com beginning at 3 p.m. ET.