Here’s something no one could have imagined 25 years ago: TBS will broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball title game from Houston on April 4 shortly after 9 p.m. ET, the first time the title game has been televised on cable in the 78-year history of the event.
That’s the biggest change for viewers this year when it comes to the tournament, as CBS has aired the NCAA men’s title game since 1982. (For future reference: CBS will broadcast the Final Four and national title game next year followed by TBS in 2018. The property alternates between the networks every year beginning in 2016 through 2024.)
Of course given that this is a true partnership of talent, the announcers for the title game will be the same as last year including CBS regulars Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson and Grant Hill of Turner Sports. The producer (Mark Wolff) and director (Bob Fishman) for the title game are also longtime CBS hands. In an effort to have you prepared for the three weeks of college basketball heaven, here’s the Media Circus annual TV Guide to watching March Madness.
How can I view the games?
For the sixth consecutive year, CBS Sports and Turner Sports will provide live coverage of all 67 games from tournament across four national television networks – TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV – with all games streamed on NCAA March Madness Live. Here are the broadcast assignments for the first four days of the tournament.
What is the network breakdown of games?
Turner Sports will air 46 game telecasts across its three networks (TBS, TNT and truTV). TBS will televise 21 games including the national championship, Final Four, Elite 8, Sweet 16 and first and second round games. TruTV will air a total of 13 games, including the First Four, the first and second rounds, and team-specific coverage of the national championship and Final Four. TNT will televise 12 games including first- and second-round matchups, in addition to the team-specific telecasts for the Final Four and national championship. CBS will broadcast 21 games throughout the tournament including the Elite Eight, Sweet 16 and first and second rounds.
What about the studio?
CBS and Turner will have integrated game and studio productions across the four networks with pregame, halftime, bridge and post-game shows from studios in New York City and Atlanta.
How will the team-specific telecasts work?
There will be team-specific, originally produced telecasts of the national championship and semifinals on TNT and truTV. The six telecasts will feature separate announcer teams and multiple viewing options highlighting each of the competing schools. In another words, if you like homer broadcasts, this is for you.
Who are the commentator teams for the tournament?
Nantz, Hill, Raftery and Wolfson are designated as the top team and will call the national championship and Final Four semifinals on TBS. The rest of the announcing teams are as follows:
• Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, and Dana Jacobson.
• Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, and Allie LaForce.
• Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, and Lewis Johnson.
• Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, and Evan Washburn.
• Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, and Ros Gold-Onwude.
• Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, and Jamie Erdahl.
• Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, and Jaime Maggio.
Who will the studio talent be for the tournament?
Ernie Johnson and Greg Gumbel will host studio coverage from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City during the first full week of the tournament. The two hosts will be joined by Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Johnson will host studio coverage from Atlanta during the second week of tournament action. Gottlieb joins studio coverage from New York starting the second week. Studio coverage originating from Turner Studios in Atlanta will be hosted by Matt Winer during the first week, and include analysts Wally Szczerbiak, Seth Davis and college coaches. Johnson will host studio coverage from the semifinals and national championship, with analysts Barkley, Kellogg and Smith. They will be also be joined by Gumbel, Miller and Davis.
Which broadcasters are new to the tournament?
The team of Anderson, Smith and Jacobson will call games through the regional finals. Blackburn will do play-by-play for the first two rounds. New studio additions include Swin Cash (serving as a studio analyst for the First Four games) and Wally Szczerbiak (joining the Atlanta studio team from the First Four through the regional semifinals). Gold-Onwude is a new add as a reporter.
What broadcasting story is worth keeping an eye on?
Last year Anderson was a late replacement for a thrilling Elite 8 game between Notre Dame and Kentucky when Marv Albert came down with a cold. Fans of the Brewers were long familiar with Anderson’s excellent work—he’s the team’s broadcaster—but this was an opportunity for the rest of the country to see Anderson excel away from baseball. He’s been awarded this year with regional games, as well as a contract extension with Turner that begins in 2017. “Turner has trusted me with big games and events and I am grateful,” Anderson said.
What is the biggest television storyline heading in?
The lack of star power. The tournament is devoid of superteams as well as name brands among the players, at least compared to previous years. “There are certainly years when you have superteams like a Kentucky and that is one of your main storylines going into the tournament.” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “The story is that it’s wide open. There are probably 15 teams that can win the championship.”
How will that impact the ratings?
I think it’s going to have an impact for the Final Four and national championship. Last year’s national championship game—Duke over Wisconsin—averaged 28.3 million total viewers, the most-viewed NCAA title game in 18 years (28.4 million; Arizona/Kentucky in 1997). That game aired on CBS while this year’s came will be broadcast on TBS. Logic tells you that the title game will draw fewer viewers given it’s in fewer homes, and I can’t see a repeat of last year’s ratings given the construction of this year’s top teams. McManus said he’s not concerned. “I don’t worry about the ratings because if we get good storylines and close games, I think the ratings will be good,” McManus said “But it is different going on this year without the super teams and really well-known players.”
What about viewership for the entire tournament?
Last year tournament was the most-watched NCAA tournament in 22 years. Games averaged 11.3 million total viewers, up eight percent from 2014 (10.5 million viewers). Given last year’s tournament featured more household names and a ton of buzzer beaters, I’d predict this year’s numbers will be down from 2015.
What is unique about this tournament from a production end?
From CBS producer Mark Wolff, who will produce his fourth NCAA title game on April 4: “The tournament is unique in many ways. For players, it could be the biggest platform that they ever play on. Emotion plays a big part of how important these games can be and we try to capture those moments. We've added equipment like surrounding the court with HD super slo-mo cameras to capture those moments with more clarity. Our 'railcam' was added to give the viewer a better feel for the speed in which the game is played at. We are constantly looking for new technologies to help us bring the viewer closer to the event.”
Who will call the First Four games?
The tournament begins on Tuesday and Wednesday on truTV. Catalon will call Tuesday’s games with analyst Lappas and reporter Erdahl. Blackburn will do play-by-play on Wednesday alongside analyst Gminski and reporter Maggio. Studio coverage for the First Four will originate from Atlanta with Matt Winer and analysts Szczerbiak, Davis and Cash.
What about digital coverage of the tournament?
NCAA March Madness Live will once again provide direct access to all 67 games of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball. Here are the details.
What about audio coverage?
Westwood One are the over-the-air radio rightsholder for the tournament including online, mobile, and satellite rights. The company says tournament coverage can be heard on more than 500 radio stations nationwide and also via SiriusXM, which has aired every game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship since 2005. Sirius will now stream games via its SiriusXM app to give subscribers access to every game on their cell phones and other devices, in addition to their satellite radios. Throughout the tournament, SiriusXM College Sports Nation will be featuring tournament talk. Kevin Kugler, John Thompson, and Clark Kellogg will call the Final Four and the National Championship games for Westwood One while Jim Gray will serve as courtside reporter and Bill Walton doing pregame, halftime, and postgame analysis for The Final Four and the national championship.
The noise report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Prior to CBS’s NCAA Basketball Championship Selection show on Sunday night—the show was extended to two hours for the first time this year—I told a number of CBS Sports executives that I liked the idea of extending the programing an extra hour to keep some eyeballs away from ESPN.
Well, that wasn’t my best call.
While I appreciate CBS wanting to add more commentary to its Selection Show (the show always feels rushed), the network committed the cardinal sin of alienating its audience by extending the bracket reveal for far too long. The show started at 5:30 p.m. ET and viewers waited until 5:50 p.m. for the first tournament game to be revealed (No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16. Austin Peay in the South Region).
And that was only the beginning.
More than one hour into the show, at the 62-minute mark, viewers finally began to learn the second half of the bracket. When host Greg Gumbel read off the final teams in the tournament, Seton Hall and Gonzaga, the clock read 6:47 p.m. ET. Viewers waited 77 minutes for the completed bracket. Wars have been completed in less time.
Naturally, CBS was crushed on social media, from staffers working at competitors such as ESPN, SB Nation and Fox Sports 1. There was criticism from national columnists, big city columnists, mid-sized columnists and even hockey columnists. Even staffers from the New York Times weighed in. My feed was a waterfall of complaints from viewers.
Compounding a bad night for CBS was the online reveal of the brackets during the show.
As CBS executives evaluate what happened on Sunday night, they will find an easy solution: Front-load the program so that all the brackets are revealed within the first 35 minutes and spend the next 85 minutes going heavy on analysis and interviews. If the analysis is good, people are not going to abandon your channel just because the brackets are in. Obviously, this is a high profile property and CBS is in the business of keeping you around to make money but the pacing on Sunday was a huge miss. Viewers will revolt if they think you are stringing them along, which is how it felt watching.
Asked how aware they were that the bracket was leaked during the Selection Show and how it impacted the broadcast if at all, a CBS spokesperson said they were aware of the leak on social media and that it did not impact their production schedule. CBS Sports declined comment on the criticism iy received for not revealing the entire bracket until 1 hour and 17 minutes into the show.
2. Anderson told SI last week that he had extended his contract as the television voice of the Brewers. His multi-year deal with team starts next year. “I love Milwaukee,” he said. “I want to stay in Milwaukee. I talked to Ian Eagle about this all the time. He is a mentor of mine and I look up to him. We have had this conversation for many years about his involvement with the Nets and mine with the Brewers and national jobs. I have no desire to leave Milwaukee. I love it there. Our family just bought a house there. I am excited about being there as long as they will have me. They have been great about allowing me to spread my wings to do national games.”
2a. Barkley on why Donald Trump is leading the GOP race. “We are in the TV ratings business now in politics. That is just the way it is now. You see Donald Trump is winning because he gives great sound bites. The same reason my guy [John Kasich] is not winning. He doesn’t give good sound bites. That is the cycle we are in. If you have good sound bites, TV will follow you. Whether that is good or bad is up to the person saying it and the people listening.”
2b. SI.com has learned that Fox Sports 1 will cut a number of features and news producers from its network over the next few weeks, another blow for those viewers hoping to see the network compete with ESPN in the areas of journalism, reporting and storytelling. Fox Sports is also expected to see a significant number of veteran employees leave via buyout over the next two months. Some of the departures will start as early as Tuesday. Morale at Fox Sports' L.A. office, is very low, according to staffers. A Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment on the loss of production talent.
3. Episode No. 46 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch features ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel, who specializes in college football. Maisel has covered college football on a national level longer than anyone currently on the beat.
In this episode, Maisel discusses why the sport continues to appeal to him, the most and least accessible college football programs, why certain head coaches don’t want assistant coaches to talk, why Jim Harbaugh has been a tough get for him, why the sport produces so much animus among certain bases and much more.
A large part of the podcast focuses on the death of Maisel’s son, Max, who passed on Feb. 22, 2015 in the icy, turbulent waters of Lake Ontario near Rochester, N.Y. “We assume that he put himself in the water,” wrote Maisel last week. “He put himself on the end of the Charlotte Pier on what may have been the worst night of an endless winter. That is all we know. The rest is logic, connecting dots, coming to the rational conclusion that revealed an irrational act.”
Maisel discusses the process of working through grief within his job, how Max’s death changed him as a college football writer, the support ESPN gave his family during its toughest time, the surreal nature of being a news subject as opposed to writing news, the people in college football who offered support and more.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me here.
4. Non-sports pieces of note:
• This Robert Draper piece on El Chapo, Kate Del Castillo and Sean Penn is just sensational.
• From Washington Post writer John Woodrow Cox: After a flawed sexual assault investigation, a Naval Academy instructor fights to prove he has done nothing wrong. But did he?
• From Andy Martino of New York Daily News: A haunting Hollywood mystery. Richard Simmons has vanished amid strange allegations, including witchcraft.
• Columbia Journalism Review says this is the best job in journalism.
• Heart-breaking glimpse into the 2011 tsunami's devastation of a Japanese family, by New York Times staffers Hiroko Tabuchi and Hiroko Masuike.
• Jack Shafer on how Trump hypnotizes the media.
• ProPublica and Texas Tribune examine Houston's next big hurricane.
• Via The New Yorker: When Kids Are Accused of Sex Crimes.
• Writer Tommy Tomlinson says goodbye to a newspaper building.
• The Washington Post on the Obama Administration’s obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act.
• Via the New York Times: To Maintain Supply of Sex Slaves, ISIS Pushes Birth Control.
Sports pieces of note:
• The Guardian’s Marina Hyde on Maria Sharapova.
• From The Players Tribune: NHL Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour letter to his 13-year-old self.
• Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall, is about to jump out of his shadow.
5a. Here’s Fox and FS1’s MLB schedule for 2016.
5b. Sports Business Daily reported that last Sunday’s MLS opener on ESPN drew 362,000 viewers for Crew-Timbers, compared to 539,000 in 2015 for NYC FC-Orlando City. The publication said the Sporting KC-Seattle matchup on FS1 drew 267,000 viewers, which compared to 268,000 viewers for Sporting KC-Red Bulls in the same window in ’15.
5c. NFL Network host Melissa Stark makes her first appearance Wednesday as a correspondent on The Fight Game, an HBO boxing show hosted by Jim Lampley. The season five debut of the show airs this Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.
5d. Boston Globe writer Chad Finn on why the personal relationship between Red Sox manager John Farrell and a Comcast SportsNet reporter matters.