SBD/February 11, 2011/Media

CBS, Turner To Work Together To Coordinate March Madness Schedule

Nets must decide how to divvy up games for popular teams like Kansas
CBS and Turner's broadcast plans for this season's NCAA men's basketball tournament mean viewers "won't have to hunt for any games or buy a Direct TV package to see every game of the tournament," but "what will be tricky is the execution of the plan," according to Milton Kent of FANHOUSE.com. There are some potential "inconveniences in the new set up." CBS previously could "switch out most of the audience to a more competitive contest" if a game became a blowout, but the net will "have to ride out those games, since they all are national contests." There also is the "possibly prickly issue of how to strike the balance between getting teams with national followings, like, for instance Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas who might blow out early round opposition into the widest distribution versus showing more competitive games between relatively anonymous teams, not to mention keeping all the televising partners happy." CBS Sports Exec VP/Programming Mike Aresco: "We're just not sure yet how we're going to do that and Turner's not either. We're going to sit down with them and figure out which games really belong on which networks." Kent noted each channel's offerings "will be static on Thursday and Friday, meaning viewers won't get an early game in a doubleheader from one site and the second game from another." But the channels "will be able to change from one location to the other between afternoon and night sessions" (FANHOUSE.com, 2/10). Turner Sports Senior VP/Strategy, Marketing & Programming Christina Miller said that a "marquee game has as much chance of being carried on truTV as it would on CBS" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 2/11).

NEW GAMEPLAN: In Houston, David Barron writes if CBS and Turner "have their way, you'll never have two games ending at the same time" due to the staggered start times. They also hope to have "more eyeballs watching more games to help foot the bill to the NCAA." Aresco said he thinks the "cumulative rating in each window will be higher with four (networks) than it would have been with just one on CBS." Aresco: "It's hard to say how much higher. I think people will switch around. The viewer will be in charge." Barron notes "certain scheduling principles ... will continue to apply," as viewers "won't see Duke on CBS and North Carolina on TNT, for example, in the same prime time window." Schedulers "will strive for geographic balance and competitive balance" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/11). Meanwhile, in San Diego, Jay Posner writes there is a "huge improvement on the weekend with the Round of 32 games." Instead of CBS "showing four games on the first Saturday with only the first game shown nationally," the new schedule calls for CBS to carry two solo games early in the day with six games tipping off between 5:00-9:30pm ET "split between three networks." On Sunday, "where CBS used to have three windows with one, four and three games in them, the schedule will be virtually the same as Saturday except CBS will carry three games instead of four," with truTV carrying the other. Posner writes another "huge bonus in the new schedule is fans will see all eight Sweet 16 games instead of four," as two will air on CBS and two will air on TBS (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 2/11).

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER? Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan called the schedule a "dream come true." Ryan: "Isn't this what basketball fans have been begging for for the last 25 years? Absolutely" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/10). ESPN's Michael Wilbon called the change "overdue," as with the "technology we have now and the interest you have in the tournament and people with brackets everywhere, people are going to watch it." ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "It is egalitarian and welcomed. This is for the small schools, the schools that are going to be one-and-done and you don't get to see their games" ("PTI," ESPN, 2/10). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes CBS and Turner's joint coverage "allows the tournament to become what our culture considers normal -- by letting viewers pick the game they want and see the whole thing." Hiestand: "Rather than the old one-channel NCAA coverage, you can flip to another game like a grateful released hostage. Granted, my inner lazy boy will probably miss CBS automatically taking me to a series of tightly staggered game finishes." However, USA TODAY's Michael McCarthy writes the coverage plans "will lead to confusion as some viewers try to find truTV." McCarthy: "Some viewers don't want to turn their living rooms into 'control rooms.'" There also are viewers "who'll be shut out, rather than 'liberated,' by the shift of games to pay cable from free TV" (USA TODAY, 2/11).
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