McManus, Levy Discuss Thoughts About The Opening Weekend Of NCAA Tourney
The questions about how CBS and Turner would work together during the NCAA Tournament were answered last week, as TV ratings and online viewership increased. Staff Writer John Ourand spoke separately with both CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus and Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy about their thoughts following the tournament's opening week. Both execs said the results exceeded their initial expectations, and both highlighted the work of CBS Sports VP/Production Harold Bryant and Turner Sports Senior VP & Exec Producer Jeff Behnke, who produced the games across CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV.
Q: How has your personal experience changed from the last few years, when CBS carried the games by itself?
McManus: Productions have not been as hectic or as challenging with respect to switching back-and-forth between all the games. What has been challenging is navigating the viewer to where the games are. Out of every commercial in every game, we tried to do a quick highlight from other games without missing any action. That's worked remarkably well because it really has shown the viewer where the best action is and truly gave the feeling -- which we didn't want to lose -- of the carnival-like atmosphere that really surrounds this tournament for the first four days.
Q: The production was seamless on air throughout the four networks. What was it like behind-the-scenes?
McManus: Normally, when you do something that's such a departure from the past, there's going to be some hiccups and some lack of acceptance. From noon on Thursday right through midnight last night, I don't remember seeing a production that was as flawless and without issues. The fact that there were two different groups doing this -- and Harold Bryant was sitting next to Jeff Behnke in our control room -- is one of the more satisfying and one of the more gratifying experiences in my career.
Q: Have you been satisfied with the studio shows?
McManus: I think the talent took a while to get used to each other. By Friday, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and Greg Gumbel were communicating very well. I think the interaction and the chemistry, considering that they had never worked together before, was pretty remarkable. Normally, chemistry in those kind of studio operations can take months or years to develop.
Q: What's it been like having such an over-sized personality like Barkley in your studio?
McManus: The only thing I'm trying to do, which I've not been able to do yet, is get Charles' invitation to the Big East's media day reinstated. I know for a fact that he's not currently on the list for the Big East golf outing this spring.
Q: How close has this been to what you were expecting?
Levy: This did exactly what we wanted to do in that it helped the sports fan find truTV. Tuesday night certainly proved that. There was no challenge for people to find it. This event made that happen.
Q: There were some complaints about the First Four. What's your verdict?
Levy: It's too early to see about changes. VCU being in the Sweet Sixteen shows that these First Four games matter and it will be a part of the bracket process moving forward.
Q: What aspect of the production makes you proud?
Levy: It's one consistent look and feel: the graphic packages, the look-ins, the music and the talent. From the consumer standpoint, if you're flipping up and down the dial looking at what games you want to come in and out of, you're not feeling like you're in any different production. One of the nice features that I got good feedback on was the blinking light on the score and network that had a close game in the last couple of minutes. We were telling the viewers to go there. That was important. Jeff Behnke and Harold Bryant did a great job with their teams in making sure the whole thing worked seamlessly. They worked hours upon hours over these last five days.
Q: Overall, what's your verdict on the first week?
Levy: All metrics are up, linear and digital. People might have thought that, based on the structure of the new package and having all the games on a national basis, may have hurt ratings and digital numbers. Having all metrics up, certainly is exciting for the partnership over the next 14 years.