Hoping For More Than One Shining MomentDavid Berson counting on March Madness, new shows to spark a rally for revamped CBS Sports Network 3/05/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
When NCAA basketball March Madness tips off on
March 13, the 68 teams of powerhouse franchises
and budding Cinderella stories won’t be the only
ones benefitting from the national spotlight.
The season-capping college hoops tournament
is also a massive promotional opportunity
for the rising CBS Sports Network,
which has been under the helm of
president David Berson (who is also executive
VP, CBS Sports) since January 2011.
Though the affable Berson, 39, will be
rooting for his alma mater, the University
of Michigan Wolverines, in the tourney,
he is focused on leveraging the marquee
event for the CBS Sports Network, which
this year will have more than 100 hours
of studio-based programming around the
event and an expanded on-site presence at
the Final Four in New Orleans.
Before coming to CBS, Berson spent 16
years at ESPN, where he started in an entrylevel
programming job right out of college
and ended up co-running the department.
After spending his entire professional career
with Team Bristol, the opportunity to lead
an up-and-coming cable network appealed
to Berson’s entrepreneurial side.
“It’s much smaller, so every person really
matters,” he says. “In a bigger place,
every person impacts things themselves
just a little less. That really makes it fun.”
Berson was also attracted to working
with CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.
Though the two previously knew each
other only by reputation, Berson liked
the unique opportunity to manage the
network while also assisting McManus
on the CBS Sports side, a move that was
done to groom Berson for a potentially
bigger role down the road.
“I had heard David’s name, he had been
mentioned to me by a number of ESPN executives
who had said to me, ‘If you’re ever
looking for somebody in a senior role who
one day might possibly be a successor to
you, then David is somebody you should
talk to,’” McManus says.
Berson’s first order of
business after taking the
reins was to change the
name of the network
from CBS College Sports
Network to CBS Sports
Network, to better integrate
the channel with
the legacy brand and
pave the way for potential
beyond college athletics.
Since then, his priority
has been building up
daily live programming
on the network, starting with The Tim
Brando Show, launched last August, and
doubling the amount of live football and
basketball studio programming. In January,
Berson lured Jim Rome away from
ESPN with a deal that includes a 30-minute
weeknight show on the network, a
presence on CBS Sports and an hour-long
series on CBS Corp.-owned Showtime.
Both Brando and Rome were tapped in
part because of their radio presence, which
they can use to drive an audience to CBS
Sports Network. Rome’s show will launch
April 3, the day after the NCAA hoops
championship game; the host will be on
CBS that weekend promoting the premiere.
“It’s no fluke that the first two consistent,
daily programs are Brando and
Rome, both of whom are CBS personalities
and both of whom have other platforms
daily from which they’ll talk about
their TV presence,” Berson says.
The network has several other shows
in development. The plan is to roll out
another daily series later this year, potentially
expanding the a.m. lineup or
filling in the afternoon before Rome’s 6
p.m. time slot.
up content and rights
to live events—Berson
Bull Riding and professional
lacrosse in the
last year—he is also
focused on gaining distribution.
Network is currently in
45 million homes, up
from the mid-to-high
30s early last year, and
Berson wants to keep
that momentum going.
Berson welcomes the challenges of
building a network; McManus describes
him as “indefatigable” and “relentless in
his desire to contribute.” But as a lifelong
sports fan, Berson is just grateful to be
doing something every day that he loves,
while carving out time to spend with his
wife and two children, to travel and to
keep it all in perspective.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot; we
have a lot more to do,” Berson says of
his first year. “We are still in the early