Programming

CBS and Turner Expect Big Dance to Build Rhythm

Networks add more digital coverage, platforms to NCAA March Madness 3/12/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Last year's version of NCAA basketball March Madness featured
thrills, chills and plenty of surprises, including Virginia
Commonwealth University dancing all the way to the Final Four,
Butler making a return appearance in the national championship game
and Connecticut’s spirited run to the title.

CBS and Turner execs are hoping for a
similar script as they embark on year two of
their 14-year agreement to jointly broadcast
the annual tournament. That’s especially the
case given that the rookie campaign was a
pure slam-dunk, with overall ratings up 7%
and digital visits ballooning by 64%. “By
every measure, the first year of our March
Madness relationship was a huge success,”
says David Levy, president, sales distribution
and sports for Turner Broadcasting.

The breakdown of networks airing games
this year will follow last year’s format, with
26 on CBS, 16 on TBS, 12 on TNT and 13
on truTV. The Final Four telecasts will air
on CBS on March 31 and April 2.

And coverage will be expanded this year
in the digital space: Turner has tweaked its digital offering, renaming it
March Madness Live (a change from March Madness OnDemand). Another
platform has been added, as Android users will now join iPhone,
iPad and online users in being able to catch every pick-and-roll or gamewinning
shot. And this year, with the exception of watching games free
on CBSSports.com, the content will have to be authenticated through a cable
or satellite provider or the user will have to pay a $3.99 fee.

Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, touted the companies’ flexibility
in being able to combine two vastly different operations. “We
were trying something that had never been done before, which was to
take two very separate and in some ways competing corporations and
put major parts of [them] together,” says McManus. “We didn’t know
what was going to happen. We thought it was going to take a while for
the viewer to get used to it.”

McManus admits to an initial concern with putting some of the
games on small cable network truTV, which had never aired a live
sporting event before. “I thought there was going to be some difficulty
with respect to finding games on truTV,” he says. “But people who
wanted to watch the game on truTV found them.”

McManus and Levy credit the announcers and production teams for
their ability to guide viewers through the early parts of the tournament
so that they would be able to find the games they were looking for.
“We really have the best collection of talent, in front of and behind the
camera, that has ever been assembled for any sporting event,” says Levy.

Viewers were satisfied with last year’s format as well. In a survey
following March Madness coverage, 91%
said they liked it better than previous
years. “Since the beginning, [Sean and I]
had one overall goal in mind: the viewers
come first,” says Levy.
Viewers were not the only ones pleased,
as advertisers raced back to get spots for the
2012 tournament. The networks are already
about 95% sold out of commercial inventory
for the games, which begin March 13 with
the “First Four” on truTV. The networks,
whose sales teams are selling the tournament
jointly, have gotten mid-single-digit
price increases over last year; 30-second
spots in the championship game on April 2
have sold for as much as $1.5 million.

While the networks would not discuss
specific ad pricing, sources familiar with
the deals say commercials in opening-round games sold this year at
an average price of $90,000 per :30, while spots in the regional finals
sold for between $600,000 and $700,000. “We are almost sold out,”
says Jon Diament, executive VP, Turner Sports ad sales and marketing.
“We’ve written a lot more dollar volume at this point than we
did last year.”

Kantar Media estimated that CBS/Turner took in a record $738
million in ad revenue for last year’s tournament. Diament and John
Bogusz, executive VP, sports sales and marketing at CBS, would not
talk specific dollar amounts but said they will surpass last year’s take.

Two new major advertisers in the tournament telecasts this year,
Allstate and Northwestern Mutual, have both agreed to multi-year deals.
They will also be official NCAA tournament telecast partners. They join
returning ad partners Buick, Enterprise, Infinity, LG, Lowe’s, Hershey’s,
Unilever, UPS and Kraft.

Sales teams for CBS Sports and Turner Sports sold inventory for the
tournament telecasts separately but cooperatively. “It was a collaborative
effort [and] it worked out well,” says Bogusz.

“After working together for the first time last year, relationships were
developed and everything went smoother this year,” adds Diament.
“And the marketers accepted it well.”

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays
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