What March Madness Will Look Like on CBS, Turner Networks

CBS and Turner’s 14-year, $10.8 billion landmark deal for the rights to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been dissected backwards and forwards since it was announced in April. But one big question has been largely glossed over: how’s it going to look?

“March will look and feel different this year,” said Greg Shaheen, NCAA EVP of Championships and Alliances, at the SportsBusiness Journal/IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Wednesday. “You’ll essentially be your own control room. You’ll be able to decide how you want to watch games. Mix and match games. And they will all have the same consistent look.”

Shaheen joined CBS Sports EVP of Programming Mike Aresco and Turner Sports EVP/COO Lenny Daniels on stage to break down the dynamics of the monumental agreement, which will allow NCAA fans to watch every game in its entirety across four networks: CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV.

Not Your Grandfather’s Tourney
The coverage will differ significantly from what fans have experienced in the past, with several major production changes. Among those changes will be additional courtside and overhead camera positions, a new graphics package, new music packages, increased use of sideline reporters, and a pooling of on-air talent.

However, the most important element to this powerful trio is not what is new but rather what is shared.

“Simply put, it’s the NCAA across four networks, so you’re going to get a consistent, top-notch feel across every network all the time, and you’re going to know what’s on the other three channels all the time,” said Daniels. “What’s on truTV is going to be equal to what’s on CBS, TNT, and TBS.”

Sharing the Wealth
One of the greatest challenges for CBS will be learning how to share production responsibilities for an event that it has produced independently for nearly three decades.

“We definitely had to change our mindset, said Aresco. “Where I would have gone right to the NCAA about an issue in the past, now I go to Lenny first, and we approach the NCAA together. [CBS Sports VP of Production] Harold Bryant and [Turner Sports Executive Producer] Jeff Behnke have been working closely together in every way. The production crews will be working together. It’s going to be very seamless.”

Time To Go Deeper
In the past, CBS Sports’ coverage has jetted around from game to game throughout the early rounds, preventing each individual production from providing much in the way of pre- and post-game analysis. However, now that each game will have a dedicated telecast, Shaheen expects deeper shoulder programming.

“Because you’re going to see the entire game, you don’t have the need to rush off in the same way,” he said. “You’re going to be able to provide content dedicated to that game as well as not lose a step in terms of what’s going on around the country. That’s really what we envisioned when we were creating this [agreement].”

Info for Viewers
In an effort to keep viewers informed about which games are on each network, the ticker at the top of the screen with each game’s score will now feature the network on which the game is airing. CBS and Turner will also deploy extensive cross-promotion leading up to and during the tournament.

“We need to do a good job of making sure viewers know where the games are,” Aresco said. “[Viewers] need to be able to watch all the games and know exactly where to watch them.”

The truTV Debate
Critics of the deal have voiced concern over truTV’s lack of identity as a sports destination. While the other three networks are entrenched as the home of major sports properties, truTV has been known largely for reality programming.

Although he understands the trepidation, Shaheen is confident the truTV brand will not present a problem.

“The last time I checked, there’s not a place you go in the country where they’re not talking about the tournament in March,” he said. “We took a close look at who was watching truTV, what the long-term plans were, and how to provide protection to us regarding how promotion will work. Most important, Turner has a vested interest in making sure that its presentation to those who will be watching truTV for the first time during the tournament is top-notch.”

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