CBS, Turner Play Nice For March Madness

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When the NCAA struck a 14-year deal with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System last April to present the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, there were lots of skeptics to the idea of putting two big media companies together on a major sports franchise.

But from the looks of it, the partnership is working out just fine. Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports; David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting; and executives and on-air commentators from both networks gathered at a press event in New York Tuesday morning to talk about their sharing of March Madness.

”This is not about CBS or Turner, it’s about the event,” says Levy. “It’s about what’s best for the viewer.”

As part of the agreement, all 68 games will be shown live across four national networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV) for the first time – putting the viewer in control of what they are watching. Now, instead of the network switching between the most compelling games, they will do the unheard of in TV – send viewers to another channel.

Which raises some valid questions about how you determine which of the four networks will carry those more competitive matches. But the inherent madness (and unpredictability) of the NCAA tourney may solve its own problem.

“Just because you pick what looks like will be the marquee game it could be over in five minutes,” says McManus. “On paper, you have no idea what the marquee game is going to be once the ball is tipped.”

McManus said they’ll 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.

“In the end, if more eyeballs watch the tournament, that’s good for both of us because we both have a share in what happens with respect to the profitability of this event,” McManus says.

Though it is Turner that presumably stands to gain more from the partnership, at least in exposure for its lesser-known channel truTV, which will carry the first round of play-in games on March 15 and 16.

“That’s part of the reason that we took on this tournament and put it on three of our networks, is to get truTV and maybe even TBS and TNT to have more viewers, more reach come into those networks,” Levy says.