March Madness’ Total Exposure

CBS and Turner guarantee real-time coverage of all 67 games
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Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn (24) dunks over Duke’s Kyle Singler (12) during the first half of play in during 2010 March Madness. Photo by Chuck Liddy/MCT/Landov
NEW YORK—For the first time in the tournament’s 73-year history, all 67 of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball games will be available live in their entirety across four national televi-sion networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV.

“Each game will have a national [broadcast] window,” said Greg Weitekamp, NCAA’s director of broadcasting, who, at presstime, was re-evaluating the association’s international dis-tribution strategy. “In the past the games have been regionalized in the preliminary rounds, and the regional semifinals were based upon regional coverage on CBS.”

Turner’s truTV will capture the first tip off on March 15 at 6:30 EST, as well as that night’s second game and another two on March 16. CBS and the three Turner networks will then air Second (March 17-18) and Third (March 19-20) Round play, staggering start times. Thereafter CBS and TBS will split the Regionals (March 24-27). CBS will air the Final Four (April 2) and Championship game (April 4) at Reliant Park in Houston.

The NCAA lauded its $10.8 billion, 14-year deal with CBS and Turner as a means of providing “seamless integration” as well as expanded coverage with “universal graphics, musical beds, unique camera angles and an integrated talent line-up,” according to the network.

BEYOND BROADCAST

But Turner’s participation goes beyond the traditional broadcast-cable model. In December, the NCAA announced that Turner Sports would oversee NCAA.com. Turner is also work-ing with Los Angeles-based developer Thought Equity Motion to expand the NCAA Vault online video repository. According to Weitekamp, Thought Equity Motion will continue to run The Vault (providing the back end technology), while Turner, which owns the digital rights, takes charge of sales.

“Last year there were about 150 games in it [The Vault]—every play was tagged with metadata, which allowed you to search for exactly what you were looking for,” he said. “This year there will be approximately 300 games available in The Vault.”

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Turner Sports Digital also took over March Madness on Demand—the NCAA’s digital, enhanced version of the television coverage distributed via broadband. MMOD had been pro-duced by CBS Sports and an NCAA-Major League Baseball development partnership for broadband and IOS mobile products. MLB will continue to provide its New York studio for the MMOD halftime show, said Michael Adamson, vice president of new products & services, Turner Sports Digital. According to Adamson, his group will be “taking a legacy and enhancing it.”

Viewers will continue to enjoy the games online free of charge. Flash has been upgraded to version 10 and a new adaptive bitrate technology will stream the main video content at 600 kbps to 1.6 Mbps, (400 kbps for certain apps). The look, branding and design will also change, and there will be three new features.

My Channels (for broadband and mobile) will enable viewers to find the TV channel lineup for all the games by entering their Zip code (to date there is no app to remotely program one’s DVR). Game Center View (broadband only) replaces CBS’ data collection system with data licensed from STATS, the AP-News Corp.-owned venture specializing in data collection, processing and distribution. In addition to displaying stats, scoring and schedule information, Game Center View will feature graphics illustrating key scoring streaks, foul trouble, and lead trackers, which can be viewed simultaneously with the game.

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“Lead Tracker” is one of the Game Center features of Turner’s MMOD offering. Two as yet unnamed social networking options will also be included. The first is an aggregated blog of commentary from celebrities and lesser known fans culled from various sources by a Turner employee at its Atlanta studio. The other is a bracket based on team popularity (versus performance).

“We’re literally creating a social [networking] control room—[but] instead of camera feeds we’re using social services,” said Adamson.

NCAA’s Weitekamp saw these applications as new ways to engage fans, which would, in turn, drive better traffic to both the digital media and television coverage. He had the same hopes for the NCAA’s new Final Four Mobile Fan Guide for the audience who’ll be watching the games at Houston’s Reliant Park.

ON-SITE SIZZLE

“The Final Four Mobile Fan Guide will have all your information related to Reliant Park,” said Weitekamp. “It will [also] have a schedule of all the events that are happening around the Final Four and a city guide so you’ll be able to find restaurants.”

Houston-based Mouth Watering Media was contracted to build the database-driven digital content platform.

The NCAA’s Bracket Town on-site fan fest will be back, this time at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. At presstime, LG Electronics had not announced whether it would renew last year’s sponsorship to provide 3D displays at Bracket Town, nor the 3D production aired last year at 100 cinemas nationwide.