When he heard a pair of familiar voices speaking some unfamiliar language early in last year's NCAA tournament, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus sensed something interesting was happening on his network. "I thought we had some magic when in a space of a fairly short period Marv Albert did a promotion for the Masters and Augusta National, and then shortly thereafter, Jim Nantz did one for 'Hardcore Pawn,' said McManus. "And I have never heard Jim Nantz say three words so slowly."
Last year -- the first of the CBS/Turner 14-year partnership to broadcast the NCAA men's basketball tournament -- represented a seismic shift for college basketball viewers (Full disclosure: Sports Illustrated and Turner are both owned by the parent company Time Warner). The tournament moved to four networks (CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV) from one (CBS), a marriage that produced Albert on CBS, Nantz on truTV and Charles Barkley blasting the Big East on all networks. The results proved successful both critically and among viewers. The overall tournament averaged 10.2 million viewers -- up seven percent from 2010 -- and was the most watched since 2005. (The national championship was the lone ratings lag; the ugly title game between UConn and Butler was down 16 percent from 2010.) CBS and Turner also reported they averaged 1.9 million daily unique visitors on broadband, up 16 percent from the previous year.
There are fewer changes this year, but there are some notable tweaks. Here is a primer on viewing this year's NCAA tournament:
How many games will each network broadcast?
CBS will air 26 games, including the Final Four (March 31) and the national championship game (April 2, 9 p.m. ET). TBS will broadcast 16 games, including games in the second round, third round and the Sweet 16; TNT will air 12 games, including second round and third round games, and truTV will broadcast the First Four games, as well as a total of 13 games during the First Four and second and third round games.
When can I see the games?
The tournament tips off in prime time on truTV Tuesday with the "First Four" games from Dayton. The opening game (Mississippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky) airs at 6:40 p.m. ET followed by BYU-Iona. That schedule will be repeated the following day on truTV with Lamar vs. Vermont (6:40 p.m.) and California-South Florida. (One interesting note: CBS analyst Clark Kellogg will jointly interview President Barack Obama and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron during halftime of the Mississippi Valley State-Western Kentucky game.)
The First Four winners will then advance to what is now known as the second round. The scheduled start times (Eastern Time) for these games on March 15 (Thursday) and March 16 (Friday) are as follows: 12:15 p.m. (CBS), 12:40 p.m. (truTV), 1:40 p.m. (TBS) and 2:10 p.m. (TNT). The second set of games will start following the conclusion of those games.
For prime time, TBS opens the coverage on Thursday with a 6:50 p.m. tip-off followed by games at 7:15 p.m. (CBS), 7:20 p.m. (TNT) and 7:27 p.m.(truTV). The final games of the night will start following the conclusion of those games. The schedule is the same for Friday night.
What happens if I'm watching a blowout?
Same thing as last year. Game announcers (as well as the scoreboard on the top of the screen) will inform you when a tight game is taking place on another network.
Do viewers need more education on where truTv is located?
"Honestly, I think that is more of a media fallacy than reality," said Turner Sports president David Levy. "It was talked about in great lengths last year and I kept reminding people not to underestimate the viewer and consumer. If you want to find a game, you will find it. Sure enough, the ratings proved it. It's not too hard to find truTv. You look on your channel guide and you figure it out, or you go online."
College basketball is a sport that is significantly impacted by the broadcasters. What are the announcing teams this year?
Very similar to last year. The first four teams below will call the regional rounds while Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will broadcast the title game. The complete list of teams:
Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg
Marv Albert/Steve Kerr
Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
Kevin Harlan/Len Elmore/Reggie Miller
Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel
Brian Anderson/Dan Bonner
Tim Brando/Mike Gminski
Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel
Nantz/Kellogg/Kerr (Final Four and title game)
Will there be sideline reporters?
Yes. The courtside reporters include Lewis Johnson, Otis Livingston, Jaime Maggio, Craig Sager, Marty Snider, Lesley Visser and Tracy Wolfson, who will handle the First Four, Final Four and title game.
What announcer should I keep an eye on?
Brian Anderson. The TBS baseball announcer -- he calls Brewers games locally -- is a newcomer in this setting and Turner is very high on him. "I believe he is one of the hidden gems in broadcasting, and an up-and-coming, play-by-play guy," said Levy. "We use him for our baseball coverage and I wanted Sean to be comfortable with him and he was. Other than that, I think last year would be hard to tinker with."
Would CBS or Turner consider bringing back Gus Johnson just to call the tournament?
Sorry, Gus fans, it's not happening. As SI.com first reported last year, CBS has parted ways with Gus. "I haven't thought about it," McManus said. "I haven't discussed it. I haven't been asked about it until now. I'm very happy with the teams we have right now. Gus did a great job. I enjoyed working with him. But we've moved on."
Steve Kerr is once again calling alongside Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg. How does Kellogg feel about sharing the analyst gig on the game's biggest stage?
He says all is cool. "I want to serve the game and I want to serve the viewer," Kellogg said. "To me, it is about not having the right partner. It's about being the right partner. I take that to heart in my work. I love talking basketball with other basketball people and fans, so to have another set of eyes, another reservoir of experience next to me enhances, hopefully, what the viewer gets. And I thought it worked out that way."
So which teams are Kellogg curious about?
"Wichita State is an interesting team," said Kellogg. "Extremely well coached. Talented. A couple of guys that looked like they have pro potential. How will they handle going in against a heavyweight? I'm really intrigued by Indiana. I love what they do offensively and I've been impressed by the demeanor of [freshman center] Cody Zeller and what he has meant to that team. Marquette and Missouri intrigue me because I don't know if they're any teams that I have seen that play small ball any better than those two. They are aggressive, tough-minded and they get after you at both ends. How will that play out if they play a North Carolina or Kentucky? Wisconsin intrigues me. Size, senior point guard and well coached. And when I saw Loyola (Md.) earlier in the year against Kentucky, I made a note in my notebook that if they get to the tournament, they could be a tough team to knock out.
Kellogg is on the board of trustees at Ohio State. How can I trust a broadcaster with such close ties to one of the nation's top teams?
"The first thing is I don't hide from the fact that I'm a Buckeye," said Kellogg. "I have drank and swallowed the Kool-Aid. I'm Scarlet and Grey. There is no denying that. I'm a Buckeye fan and we all are fans of certain teams and programs and particularly our alma mater. When calling a game, I am representing CBS and Turner and my professionalism has to rise above where my personal interests lie. Whether people accept or acknowledge that fairly, I cannot control. I don't get hung up on trying to appease the public. I try to serve the game and the viewers and I will let people make their judgment."
So why are there so many studio analysts?
Because both CBS and Turner pay some ex-jocks a lot of money and want to showcase them as much as possible. There will be two studios during the tournament, one based in New York and the other in Atlanta. Greg Gumbel (CBS) and Ernie Johnson (TNT) will anchor the coverage, with analysts Greg Anthony, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith based in New York throughout the tournament. Matt Winer will anchor coverage from Turner's Atlanta studio and will be joined by Seth Davis and Steve Smith. During the regional semifinals and finals, Gumbel will remain in the New York studio alongside Barkley, Anthony and Kenny Smith, while Johnson will shift to the Atlanta studios to join Davis and Steve Smith. Johnson, Anthony, Barkley, Davis and Kenny Smith will be in the studio for the first night of the coverage on Tuesday.
How is Barkley preparing for the tournament?
"I've watched pretty much 30 to 40 teams for the past three or four months and then as you get closer to the tournament, I start getting scouting reports from people like Dan Bonner, Seth Davis or Mike Gminski," Barkley said. "Then I'll call college coaches. If you want to know someone from a conference, call a coach. Anytime I want to know about the ACC, I will call Mike Krzyzewski. Last year to learn about Arkansas-Little Rock, I called one of my old teammates, Joe Kleine, who now coaches there. Listen, there is always somebody around who knows about a school or a player. Basketball is a pretty small community."
So who does Barkley like to win it all?
Barkley says Kentucky and Syracuse are the two best teams. "I think North Carolina plays like an NBA team, but they coasted through the regular season," Barkley said. "I'm curious to see if they can sustain six games at that level, but Kentucky is my pick."
Can I watch the tournament at my office again?
Of course, but there are some major changes. NCAA March Madness Live (formally March Madness on Demand) will be available for free streaming online on an authenticated basis. What does authentication require? Cable and satellite system subscribers can authenticate themselves through Turner's sites (tbs.com, tnt.tv, truTv.com) by providing their account number. Fans who opt to not authenticate or cannot authenticate based on where they live can purchase a $3.99 all-access pass for the entire slate of 67 games played through April 2. Those games will be available online, and for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and select Android smartphones over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G. Games that air on CBS require no authentication and can be seen on a number of websites. For information on the March Madness Live, click here.
So why did Turner decide to go a pay model?
Turner Sports Senior VP & GM Matt Hong told the Sports Business Daily that "frankly, we'd prefer people to authenticate and watch that way. The goal is for this to be a TV Everywhere product. We think this structure positions the games much more in line with the TV Everywhere model and where authentication in general is going."
And what does Hong's boss say?
"We had to protect our distributors, and part of that protection is to make sure when people are cable, satellite or Telco subscribers, they have the opportunity to watch all these games for free on any device they want," Levy told SI.com. "At the same time, there are people that don't have cable, never had cable or are living in a place where they cannot authenticate right now. We have to be able to supply those consumers with the opportunity too, and we thought the price point was cheap enough. We did tons of focus groups and it is almost a non-issue."
A non-issue? Shouldn't Turner executives be worried about viewer backlash from a pay model?
Said Levy: "I think the consumer, for six cents a game and the value you are getting for three weeks, it's pretty inexpensive. It's less than a cup of coffee.
How much tweeting will CBS and Turner announcers do during the tournament?
Plenty, but you won't see much on the air. CBS has created a Twitter feed -- @marchmadnessTV -- that will send out game alerts and updates, and they are encouraging their on-air talent to tweet aggressively. While you might see a tweet of note discussed during a studio show, neither CBS nor Turner is likely to have tweets appear on its game coverage.
Can I listen to all the games on the radio?
You bet. Westwood One/Dial Global Radio Network will air all 67 games through multiple digital products. Game-callers include Kevin Calabro, Ian Eagle, Kevin Kugler and Dave Sims. The analyst lineup features Pete Gillen, Bill Raftery, John Thompson and newcomer Jamal Mashburn, among others. LeBron James' favorite interviewer, Jim Gray, will serve as the courtside reporter.
Any bulletin board material for Fox Sports, ESPN or NBC Sports?
Why, yes. Describing his on-air talent for the tournament, Levy said, "We have the best collection of talent in front of and behind the camera that has ever been assembled for any sporting event."