CBS Sports-Turner Teamwork Means March Madness Success

Production execs at CBS and Turner Sports are reporting that Week 1 of March Madness was an unqualified success. Personnel in engineering, operations, sales, production, public relations, and more from both organizations tackled a weekend of college basketball that delivered huge ratings and plenty of drama.

“This was one humongous kumbaya,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of engineering, operations, and production services for CBS Sports, of the joint effort. “Across the board, everyone worked with their counterparts [from the other company] on elements, and everyone pitched in. There was no ego; everyone just made it work.”

The possibility of a culture clash may appear large from the outside, but Tom Sahara, senior director of IT and remote operations for Turner Sports, points out that CBS and Turner have a long history of working together on PGA Tour events.

“There is a comfort level throughout our operations and talent so there really weren’t any egos or political boundaries,” he says. “We both just jumped in and tried to concentrate on putting the best product on the air. And it is a testament to both sides that we all saw the importance of bringing the viewer the best presentation possible.”

In terms of game coverage, CBS handled six of the eight opening-round locations, and Turner Sports was responsible for Tucson, AZ, and Tulsa, OK. Turner’s production trucks were used only for the first round in Dayton, OH, because its two trailers are being used for NBA and Major League Baseball games.

One of the most visible ways they worked together for viewers was the pool of announcers; Turner Sports contributed analysts and play-by-play announcers. But, behind the scenes, efforts like those around graphics also made a difference.

A joint creative group with members from both CBS and Turner chose a graphics agency for the final look.

“Our graphics group in Atlanta created the elements and had a shared site to post them so that CBS could then build the graphics using Vizrt,” says Sahara. “CBS would post it back to Turner and then test and make sure everything [played out correctly].”

Those graphics are zipping over the fiber lines between New York and Atlanta that also carry the Atlanta-based studio shows, highlight and promo packages, and content for the March Madness On Demand Website.

One area that has required a workaround is communications, from both a technical and a philosophical standpoint. The latter, for example, meant simply finding the correct person in each organization to deal with a specific issue.

“There are some differences in what positions do at both CBS and Turner, and there would be some gaps,” says Sahara. “So we would have to try to understand who to speak with on the other side to put the proper communications paths in line.”

The technical communications challenge was to overcome a 700-mile difference in location for intercom needs. Both organizations rely on RTS intercoms, but they couldn’t be tied together as one.

“We are using standard dialup hybrids for the primary communications and then layering on a secondary backup and auxiliary communications channel on a virtual intercom,” says Sahara. Both systems run in parallel in the event of a failure or the phone line’s dropping.

The evening of March 24 tips off another weekend of coverage, and Sahara is already looking forward to it.

“It’s been a great experience; the excitement for college athletics is unparalleled,” he says. “It’s a great way to start the contract, and we’re looking forward to making the coverage better.”

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