SBD/March 9, 2011/Media

CBS, Turner Sports Set To Enter New Era Of NCAA Tourney Coverage

Every March Madness game will be available in its entirety for first time this year
CBS and Turner Sports officials yesterday said that the "most radical broadcast changes in years to college basketball's March Madness might first bewilder viewers but should ultimately empower them," according to Jon Weisman of DAILY VARIETY. Longtime NCAA men's basketball tournament host CBS "realized that it was in danger of losing rights to the games to ESPN," so the network partnered with TBS, TNT and truTV starting this year. CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus: "We realized we couldn't bid for this just as an over-the-air broadcaster. We needed a partner from a (number of) standpoints. We understand the passion ESPN has and had for this event, and I think we were correct in that they were going to be very, very aggressive in trying to take over the rights." Weisman writes the "best news for viewers -- at least those who have access to the Turner nets -- is that for the first time, every game will be available on TV from start to finish." CBS and Turner "pledge to make this concept clear to auds, through onscreen graphics as well as from the game announcers." Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said that "if there's a 20-point blowout on one network but a tossup on another, viewers will actively be alerted that they might want to change the channel." However, Weisman notes CBS affiliates "might not be waving pompoms over the new setup." Because logistics "will partly determine which games are broadcast on which networks," it is "possible that a CBS affiliate could be selling local advertising spots for one game while its hometown team is competing on a cabler." McManus: "The only answer I can really give (the affiliates) is it's much better than the alternative, which is to have the entire tournament on ESPN" (DAILY VARIETY, 3/9).

CHECK YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS: In Salt Lake City, Scott Pierce notes there will be "some negotiation" between CBS and Turner "about which channel gets which games." But "most of that will be decided by a team's seeding and bracket placement." CBS announcer Jim Nantz: "You really don't know how you're going to network the games until the brackets come out." Nantz added, "It's a new world out there because of this partnership (with Turner). Every game's going to be national. So it's a different equation than it was in years past" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/9). McManus said that the networks will "cut in for some buzzer beaters, but they won't all be live so as not to sacrifice the national feed." Much of the "look-ins at games going on elsewhere will happen at halftime, and scores at the top of the screen will keep viewers updated with the games on the three other nets" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 3/9). Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley noted truTV is "not available in HD in many markets." Levy said, "I would like to see all of truTV be in high def, and we are working diligently as we speak today with our cable operators, telco companies and our satellite distributors, trying to figure out ways to make sure our consumers can get high def games when they want them where they want them. ... They are all available in HD. The question is whether the cable operator or distributor wants to carry it" (JSONLINE.com, 3/8).

HOLDING COURT: TNT NBA studio analyst Charles Barkley, who will work the NCAA tournament for the first time this year, yesterday "promised to cover more than just brackets and buzzer-beaters." Barkley: "I'm going to talk about the games, but when I met with the NCAA, I said, 'At some point, we are going to have to talk about graduation rates on these damn games.' ... We just gave these damn people $11 billion. They're not paying the players. I'm not going to go on a rant about where the money goes, but they have an obligation to graduate these players" (NEWSDAY, 3/9). NCAA Senior VP/Basketball & Business Strategies Greg Shaheen said Barkley's comments are "representative of the many issues in the environment of basketball we're all trying to address." Shaheen: "It's a great opportunity for him to comment on those topics." The AP's Rachel Cohen noted Barkley is "still figuring out how and when to best get his message out on the air." He "doesn't want to be a 'downer' and intends to embrace the happier aspects of his new job." Barkley: "I've got to wait for the appropriate time. I can't start out March Madness on Thursday saying, 'These graduation rates suck.' That wouldn't be appropriate." When asked if it would be "appropriate to call out individual schools for low graduation rates," Barkley said, "I don't ever want to embarrass anybody, but some of these people deserve to be embarrassed. That's a good question. I don't know the answer to it yet" (AP, 3/8).
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