The burgeoning bromance between CBS and Turner Sports was on full display this week inside a third-floor hotel banquet room at the swank Le Parker Meridien hotel in Manhattan. With their bosses seated behind them at the head of the room, Turner's Charles Barkley and CBS analyst Len Elmore chatted amicably about the upcoming NCAA tournament. Barkley, who works exclusively on NBA coverage, conceded that the college game presented a staggering amount of players and teams. Elmore, a soft-spoken lawyer who has broadcast college basketball for CBS and ESPN the past decade, told Barkley he had covered nearly 70 college games this season and was happy to provide some tutelage. "Call me anytime if you need something, Elmore told Barkley. "Happy to help."
Barkley is not the only one who can use some March Madness guidance. This year represents a seismic shift for viewers as tournament moves to four networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV) from one (CBS). But help is on the way. Below, SI.com offers a primer on viewing this year's NCAA tournament.
(Editor's note: Turner Sports is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations.)
What's the biggest change this year? All NCAA tournament games will be available live in their entirety across four national networks: CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Each of the games have staggered start times (many up to 30 minutes apart) so viewers can toggle between them. The staggered tipoff times, in theory, will enable fans to watch the beginning and end of every tournament game. "Everyone is used to seeing the NCAAs on CBS," said CBS Sports president Sean McManus. "You sit down and watch all the games and we switch back and forth. It's a totally new concept this year and one that will take some getting used to for the viewer. The viewer is playing the role that CBS used to play. The viewer now has a clicker in his hand."
When can I see the games? The tournament tips off in prime time on truTV on Tuesday, March 15, with a set of games being called the "First Four." The opening game airs at 6:30 p.m. ET followed by a game at 9 p.m. That schedule will be repeated the following day on truTV.
The First Four winners will advance to what is now known as the second round. The scheduled start times for these games on March 17 (Thursday) and March 18 (Friday) are as follows: noon (CBS), 12:30 p.m. (truTV), 1:30 p.m. (TBS) and 2 p.m. (TNT). The second set of games begin at 2:30 p.m. (CBS), 3 p.m. (truTV), 4 p.m. (TBS) and 4:30 p.m. (TNT). Then we get to prime time. TBS opens the coverage with a 6:45 p.m. tip-off followed by games at 7 p.m. (CBS), 7:15 p.m. (TNT and truTV). The final games of the night begin at 9:15 p.m. (TBS), 9:30 p.m. (CBS), 9:45 p.m. (TNT), and 9:55 p.m. (truTV).
CBS will televise four games on the opening weekend, beginning March 19 at noon. CBS will also air games at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. TNT will carry games at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. TBS will have games at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The schedule the following day (Sunday, March 20) will be the same with the exception of truTV's airing the 7:30 p.m. game that CBS had the previous day.
The regional semifinal games on March 24 and March 25 will air on CBS (starting times are 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) and TBS (7:15 p.m. and 9:55 p.m.).
CBS will broadcast the Elite Eight games (March 26-27). The Saturday start times are 4:20 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. The Sunday games will tip at 2:10 p.m. and 4:55 p.m.
The national semifinals take place on CBS on Saturday, April 2. The start times are 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The championship game (Monday, April 4, 9 p.m.) will also air on CBS.
How many games will each network broadcast? CBS will air 26 games throughout the tournament. TBS will broadcast 16 games, truTV will televise 13 games and TNT will have 12 games.
CBS always had live look-ins at other games and also switched live to buzzerbeaters. Will that happen this year?Not nearly as much. Explained McManus: "Say the viewer is watching CBS and it's a 25-point blowout. He might say to themselves, 'What is CBS doing? Why are they sticking to this game?' Well, in the past, when it got to 15 points or so, we would protect the local markets and switch to another game. Now there is no switching other games in this scenario. There are four national broadcasts. Once the viewer gets used to it, I think he will like it and play the role CBS used to play. The clicker is in his hands and he does not have to rely on some CBS executive. He will switch himself. We have empowered viewers."
OK, so what happens if I'm watching a blowout? Here's one of the remarkable things of the partnership. CBS and Turner executives say viewers will be informed repeatedly by game announcers (as well as a scoreboard on the top of the screen) when a tight game is taking place on another network. "Sending somebody to another television network while the game is on yours is something that is unheard of," said Turner Sports president David Levy. "It will take some getting used to for the television audience."
Can I watch the tournament at my office again? Damn right. Just don't tell your boss. March Madness on Demand (MMOD) will provide live-streaming video of every game of the tournament, beginning with the First Four on March 15. The application will be hosted on SI.com and will be free to users across all platforms, including the full versions of the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch apps over Wi-Fi and 3G. (March Madness on Demand mobile applications are already available for free from the App Store.) Last year a record 8.3 million unique viewers watched or listened to the NCAA tournament on the MMOD application, including 575,000 users for the Duke-Butler final. "The majority of the world does not have a television set in their office," said Levy. "If you were going to customize and build an event for the web or for the new digital technology, you would construct the NCAA basketball tournament."
Tell us some of the new features for March Madness on Demand.For starters, there is a larger video player, so when people initially log into the MMOD application, the size of the initial viewing window will be larger than it was in past years. The personalized "My Channels" feature under "Settings" allows you to plug in your Zip code and TV provider to see your channel lineup for every game, including games in HD. The "Game Center" dashboard features in-game highlights and live stats, including a traditional box score, scoring streaks, a lead tracker, and a chart of players in foul trouble. You can read pregame scouting reports and there will be highlights of every completed game in the tournament. There will also be updated and printable brackets.
The new "March Madness Social Area" is a virtual meeting place for fans, as well as for Turner social hosts/reporters who will cull through social media (including CBS and TBS reporters) to provide the most interesting tweets and social trends regarding the tournament. Fans will be able to interact with the social hosts, comment on games, and vote on the most impressive highlight of the day. As part of a deal with Facebook and NCAA.com, fans can "Like" teams in each round and build a team's social score as part of a bracket.
How will things look on each channel? The look and feel across all four networks will be similar, including the graphics package, the music package and openings. You will see display logo bugs [network IDs] for whatever channel you are on.
Announcers are important. Who will be calling the tournament? The Final Four and championship game announcers are Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr. They will also call the First Four games. The regional teams include Nantz and Kellogg, Marv Albert and Kerr, Gus Johnson and Elmore, Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. The opening weekend announcer teams are Tim Brando and Mike Gminski; Spero Dedes and Bob Wenzel; Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel; and trio of Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner.
David Aldridge, Sam Ryan, Craig Sager, Marty Snider, Lesley Visser and Tracy Wolfson will serve as reporters during the tournament.
Wait, Marv Albert is doing games?In a word, YESSSSSS. Albert will partner with Kerr to call Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games from the Tulsa Regional. It's the first time in three decades he'll call college games: he actually called Kerr's games when he played for Arizona.
What's the deal with the pregame, halftime and postgame shows?That's a question most of Seth Davis' immediate family will be asking, too. truTV is where you'll get the majority of your pregame information. (The channel is calling its pregame show "NCAA Tip-Off.") The network's coverage will debut on March 15 at 6 p.m., an hour before the opening tip-off of the first game of the tournament. On the opening Thursday and Friday, truTV will hold a 90-minute pregame show beginning at 11 a.m. and leading up to its game coverage. CBS games will start on both days at noon, so you can opt to watch live action or pregame show.
CBS will also have a pregame show presence. The network's traditional "Road To The Final Four" show will air before its Elite Eight coverage on March 26 and March 27. CBS also has a pregame show before the Final Four, at 4 p.m. on April 2.
What about the postgame? Both truTV and TBS will feature postgame studio shows. The postgame show ("Inside March Madness") debuts on truTV on March 15 following the conclusion of the second First Four game. truTV will also air a postgame show at the conclusion of games on March 16, 17 and 18. The postgame then switches to TBS for March 19 and 20. TBS will also host a postgame show for the regional semifinals on March 24 and 25. The postgame show returns to truTV for Elite Eight games on March 26 and 27 (following the end of the CBS games) and March 27. truTV will air a postgame show after the Final Four games conclude on April 2. It will also air a postgame show after the championship game on April 4 (probably around midnight).
So who is on these pregame, halftime and postgame shows? The studio programming for pregame, halftime and postgame shows will originate from New York and Atlanta, with the main anchor chair shared by CBS veteran Greg Gumbel and longtime TNT host Ernie Johnson. Barkley and Kenny Smith will provide analysis throughout the tournament from the CBS studios in New York City (with the exception of opening night) alongside Gumbel or Johnson. CBS analyst Greg Anthony will also be part of the New York-based studio show. Turner's Matt Winer will host the Atlanta-based studio show with Reggie Miller, Steve Smith and Davis. The New York-based talent will be rotating throughout the tournament, so you could see something like Gumbel, Barkley and Anthony during a halftime segment.
The opening night (March 15) studio team (airing from the Atlanta studios) will consist of Gumbel, Anthony, Barkley, Davis, Johnson and Smith. Turner will break the sextet into subgroups at different times during the evening. That group (sans Davis) will be in New York for Thursday's games. truTV's pregame and postgame on the opening Thursday and Friday features Winer, Davis and Smith.
Does Barkley actually know college basketball? We'll find out. Said Barkley: I'm not going to watch 100 college basketball teams play, that's bulls--t. I'm going to do the best job of watching 30 or 40 teams play and the rest I'm going to have to get my college coach friends [to help] and other college analysts [to help]. Some of these teams you can watch one time, but that doesn't mean I know them."
Does Barkley have a finals pick? "If I was a betting man," he said, laughing, "I would take Kansas and Texas. Ohio State is in the conversation. If I could take Texas, Kansas and Ohio State, I like my chances. And I'd double down, too.
Will there be games CBS will take for itself? Well, CBS does have the rights to the regional finals, as well as the Final Four and title game, through 2015. Regarding how the games will be divvied up in early rounds this year, McManus said that the programming and sales staffs for both networks will discuss what's best for all. "I think there might be horse trading back and forth but we will work it out," McManus said. "There might be a window where a game works best for CBS or Turner, but what is important is cumulative audience."
What, exactly, is truTV and why am I watching basketball on it? CBS/Turner needed four channels to cover the event because all games will be covered on a national basis. Since there are 16 games on the opening Thursday and Friday, CBS/Turner needed a fourth channel. truTV is in 93 million homes.
What if I don't know where truTV is on my cable dial? One of the best features of March Madness on Demand (MMOD) is the personalizable My Channel feature. Whether you are watching on your computer, iPhone, iPodTouch, or iPad, just plug in your zip code and cable provider from the list provided and MMOD will show you a complete TV schedule for every game.
OK, I think I have truTV. But can I get it in HD? Depends on where you live. Sports Business Daily reported Thursday DirecTV will carry truTV's NCAA men's basketball tournament games in HD under the terms of a deal the satellite operator finalized with Turner Sports this week. (DirecTV, with about 19 million subscribers, was the biggest distributor who did not have a carriage deal in place for truTV HD.) Our advice is to ask your cable company and satellite provider if you get truTV in HD.