CBS Sports and Turner announced numerous changes to this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship telecast schedule, including extending live on-site pregame coverage of the championship game on TBS to three hours, moving up tipoff to 9:10pm and airing “Teamcasts” of participating schools for its Final Four coverage on TNT and truTV. CBS Sports’ Chairman Sean McManus and Turner President David Levy were on hand to chat about the changes in NYC on Tuesday.
According to Levy, this year it’s an “equal partnership” between broadcast and cable, with cable’s Teamcasts being something new and different for the networks. “Broadcast and cable, it’s just called television,” he told reporters. “It’s a screen—a video screen.” As far as whether there will be a backlash for airing the national semifinals on cable this year, Levy said, “I get this question every time we air something on cable… I think we’re over that.”
The emphasis for the Teamcast games is on “the storytelling behind it,” Levy said. “I think that’s what we’re going to try to project. It’s the first time it’s ever been done, certainly on this kind of national stage,” he said. Moreover, the experiment might become a model for future business. “I think it’s something that the future of media may end of being. There are going to be situations where you do this, when there’s what I would call a dominant fan base around certain teams.”
Levy expects to start picking talent for each Teamcast and making the calls by the tournament’s Sweet 16 round. “We want to get that local flavor,” he said, so they are considering going with radio announcers and cable announcers, for both half time and pre-game shows on each network. Another possibility is tapping a celebrity who went to the school, Levy said. Filling crews and talent for four teams will be very challenging, he said, but that’s what makes it an exciting project. He expects to get a lot of help from the schools, who have thus far embraced the idea.
Much of the storytelling will play out via the camera angles—which will be numerous. “We are bringing cameras that are going to be specifically tied to each team,” Levy said, arguing that gives producers and directors the opportunity to focus on, say, another aspect of the team during a timeout. “Ultimately you want to feel like you’re watching that home team kind of game, and then hopefully the talent will match what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. Just how local are they going? There will be a custom pre-game show and a custom halftime for each game, which means “three different half times and three different pre-games happening simultaneously,” he said.
CBS Sports’ McManus said the changes prove the tournament’s not “resting on its laurels.” And even though “the simplest thing would have been to just to simulcast the game on truTV, TNT and TBS” to boost ratings, he said “as long as you are giving the fan the regular traditional coverage on TBS, there’s no downside…. If you don’t like what we did, watch TBS.”
All this, Levy reminded reporters, is taking place online as well as on-air. And they’ve spent a good deal of time making sure the process is seamless, Levy asserted. “The satellites and the telcos have been working each and every time to make it simpler, easier and so forth, and I think the trial period of three hours is enough,” he said. “And authentication, like it was with the Olympics, will be good. I think this is the kind of property that can help move the process along.”