Media Circus: Breaking down CBS and Turner's March Madness broadcast package

An inside look at CBS's and Turner's decision making leading up to the network's coverage of the NCAA Tournament.
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If you forget everything else you read below, here is the one public service announcement for the NCAA Tournament that you will want to remember:

The Final Four (April 1) and title game (April 3) will air on CBS this year.

One of the contractual provisions of the CBS Sports and Turner Sports NCAA partnership—which was extended last year through 2032—has the Final Four and championship game rotating between the two outlets every year. Last year’s title game between Villanova and North Carolina—one of the most compelling finals in history—drew a disappointing 17.8 million total viewers across TBS, TNT and truTV, down 37% from the 2015 title game (28.3 million) featuring Duke and Wisconsin on CBS. As much as cable sports networks want to tell you there is no difference between cable and network, the truth is there is always a difference. More people will watch this year’s title game. But I’m happy to give the floor to David Levy, the president of Turner Sports, on the issues that led up to last year’s title game number.

“There were a lot of bracket breakers and upsets early on last year,” Levy said. “So I think there was a little bit of a lull in the tournament before we got to an amazing championship game. Now if you go back a year before that, on TBS, a cable channel, Kentucky-Wisconsin was the highest rated semifinal game (22.6 million viewers) in 19 years including CBS. So I think it is about the competition, the teams, the matchups, and everything else that has to do with ratings. [CBS Sports Chairman] Sean [McManus] and I talk all the time and we want to do what is right for the consumer. We got in this as equal partners and ultimately we will alternate every year unless we feel there is something better off for the consumer. Right now it doesn't feel like there is difference.”

NCAA, CBS/Turner extend NCAA tournament deal through 2032

That’s the viewership backdrop to this year’s NCAA Tournament. (I do think if CBS gets a massive number this year and TBS is down in 2018, Levy and McManus will revisit the rotating agreement for the Final Four and title game.) As for the production and programming—how you experience the games—CBS and Turner have done a first-rate job for the most part. You can quibble with some announcing choices but they have set the tournament up where you serve as the producer and director of what you want to watch. That is a great thing. 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 seventh consecutive year, Turner Sports and CBS Sports provide live coverage of all 67 games across four national television networks—TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV—and via NCAA March Madness Live.

What is the network breakdown of games?

CBS will broadcast 24 games throughout the tournament including the National Championship, Final Four, Elite 8, Sweet 16 and first and second rounds. Turner will air 43 game telecasts across its three networks (TBS, TNT and truTV). That breakdown: TBS will televise 18 games including the Elite 8, Sweet 16 and first and second round games; truTV will air 13 games, including the First Four and the first and second rounds. TNT will televise 12 games including first and second round match-ups.

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.

Is there a link for all the announcer assignments for the opening round?

Yes. Here you go.

How will the team-specific telecasts work?

Because CBS has the Final Four and national championship game, there will be no Team Stream this year.

“We have a slightly different model than Turner does and exclusivity for our stations is important to us,” said McManus. “Our goal is aggregate the largest audience so it’s important to us for the semifinals and final game that we do that on CBS.”

Levy said that Turner Sports will bring it back for 2018. “We think it is innovative and it’s all about innovation and the fan first.” Levy said. “We got great perspective back from consumers who want to see a different perspective. I think it is additive to the overall experience of March Madness.

Who are the commentator teams for the tournament?

Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson will call the national championship and Final Four semifinals for the third consecutive year.

The rest of the announcing teams are as follows:

• Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, and Lewis Johnson

• Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce.

• Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, and Dana Jacobson.

• Ian Eagle, Steve Lavin, and Evan Washburn.

• Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Len Elmore and Ros Gold-Onwude.

• Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, and Jamie Erdahl

• Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski, Debbie Antonelli and Lisa Byington

What about the studio?

Ernie Johnson and Greg Gumbel will again host studio coverage from the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City during the first full week of the tournament, joined by Charles Barkley, Clark Kellogg and Kenny Smith. Johnson will host studio coverage from Atlanta during the second week of tournament action on Thursday and Friday. Casey Stern is a new host for studio coverage originating from Turner Studios in Atlanta. The Atlanta group will feature Seth Davis, newcomer Brendan Haywood, and college coaches. Wally Szczerbiak will contribute to studio coverage and Adam Zucker will provide game updates from New York City. 

What broadcasting stories are worth keeping an eye on?

Debbie Antonelli is the first women in 22 years to work as an analyst for the men’s tournament. The New York Times columnist Juliet Macur recently wrote a piece on why so long between Ann Meyers Drysdale, and Antonelli.

Steve Lavin, the former UCLA and St. John’s coach and a longtime ESPN analyst, is an excellent addition to the coverage. He currently works for Fox Sports and the Pac-12 Network.

Lisa Byington is a veteran basketball game caller and knows her hoops.

Ros Gold-Onwude is often seen on Turner’s broadcast and is the full-time sideline reporter for the Golden State Warriors.

Who will call the First Four games?

The tournament begins on Tuesday and Wednesday on truTV. Anderson, Kellogg and Lewis Johnson will work the Tuesday game. Dedes, Steve Smith, Elmore and Gold-Onwude have the Wednesday broadcast. The studio coverage will consist of Stern, Davis and Haywood.

What is the onsite setup for the Final Four?

CBS will air studio coverage from 3 to 6 p.m. ET. for the national semifinals. Pregame coverage for the national championship will begin at 8:30 p.m. ET.

What should we look for regarding viewership for the entire tournament?

Last year’s tournament was down double digits from the 2015 tournament, which was the most-watched NCAA tournament [11.3 million average viewers per game] in 22 years. CBS and Turner desperately need some buzzer beaters in the early rounds to building some momentum.

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. The games will be live-streamed over 15 platforms this year including new additions Amazon Alexa devices and Xbox. The returnees include Amazon Fire tablets, Amazon Fire TV, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, Android handset, Android tablet, Chromecast, Windows 10 mobile and desktop, Roku players and Roku TV models, among others.

What about audio/radio coverage?

Westwood One owns the rights to the entire tournament. This year, for the first time, the company will broadcast the Final Four in Spanish, the championship’s first-ever Spanish language broadcast on any platform. SiriusXM listeners can hear every game in its entirety from the First Four on March 14 and 15 through the Final Four and national championship game. All Men’s NCAA Tournament game broadcasts are provided to SiriusXM by Westwood One.

The Noise Report

( examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. When you listen to your audience, good things can happen. CBS Sports was rightfully excoriated last year for committing the cardinal sin of alienating its audience by extending the bracket reveal for far too long. The first bracket was revealed 20 minutes in and 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, viewers had waited 77 minutes for the completed bracket. Wars have been completed in less time. It was the lowest-rated Selection Show since at least 1995.

The network changed course on Sunday—as they said they would—and everyone was rewarded. The first bracket was revealed two minutes into the show and the first half of the bracket was completed in a little over 20 minutes. Viewers had ¾ of the bracket by the 30-minute mark. The entire bracket was revealed by 6:07 p.m, when Maryland and Xavier were announced. That was 37 minutes in. Bravo.

The show—produced smartly by Tim Weinkauf—had such a better rhythm to it. Analysts Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis (who obviously works for SI) were able to get thoughts one each bracket and you didn’t feel like you had somehow missed out because there was not a long discussion. Keeping the analysts who cover the sport year-round (Davis and Kellogg) on screen before getting to Turner’s talent was also a smart move. CBS now has its Selection Show blueprint for years to come.

1a. Many people have asked why Brad Nessler is not calling NCAA Tournament games this year. Here’s how McManus answered the question: “We had our lineup set from last year as far as play by play and we felt it was fair to the current teams for them to come back,” McManus said. It wasn’t an anti-Brad thing at all. Everybody had earned the right to come back again. We are definitely open and flexible for the future and he has a great resume. I can certainly see him involved in the future.”

1b. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, on the Tournament prospects of defending champion Villanova: “I don't have any concerns except for health. Darryl Reynolds getting healthy and staying healthy would be the only concern. This is a really good team. Offensively they are excellent. They run. They're resolute to run their stuff. They're a good screening team. They're a very good passing team. And by passing team, I don't mean they’re a passing team that all of them pile up assists, but they move the ball, and when they catch it, they either pass, dribble or shoot, like they don't pass it, catch and hold. And then they're strong defensively, but they've got a lot of experience, and then they've got some really good young players. I love that team. But the only issue would be dealing with teams, like if they played North Carolina again, dealing with their size. I think they were a little bit better off dealing with size last year, but they beat Purdue earlier this year at Purdue. They can handle size. But if Darryl Reynolds isn't healthy, it makes it a little more difficult.

2. Last week I asked Levy about the decision made by Bleacher Report to delete editorial content following complaints by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on an admittedly dumb tweet about Dirk Nowitzki​. As I wrote when it happened: I understand and respect Cuban sticking up for his guy—Cuban is also correct; the tweet was hacky—but there’s a larger principle at play here. Once you start letting league partners dictate your content—Turner Sports is a rights-holder partner with the NBA—you are going down a very dangerous road that often ends up in Propogandaville.

Here was Levy’s response to questions on the incident:

“Let me just say this and I mean this: There is no outside influencer that will or has influenced our decisions with what we do with journalistic principles,” he said. “There hasn’t been.

Honestly, we took it down because it was not part of the Bleacher Report brand. It wasn’t what our brand stands for.... Listen, it was something that was insignificant and I didn’t think the caption was in the mindset of the Bleacher brand. It wasn’t a great tweet.”

Levy said that the ultimate decision was made by Bleacher Report’s editorial staff and not him.

2a. ABC’s game broadcast of the Warriors-Spurs on Saturday night did not shy away from examining Andre Iguodala’s racially-charged remarks after Golden State’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. No matter how you feel on the subject, it was an excellent moment for the broadcast because they examined a relevant story in-game (and on the studio show prior as well). Check out this remarkable transcript from the game broadcast and ask yourself if you’d hear it in the NFL from their game broadcasters.

Play by Play announcer Mike Breen: “Mark, what were your thoughts about what Iguodala said?”

Game analyst Mark Jackson: “I’m disappointed. And I know him, I love him, and he is as class a guy as I have been around in this league. But those quotes, that statement, is inexcusable. And you can’t laugh it off and say that’s just Andre. He’s an incredibly smart guy. No. It’s wrong, its offensive, and you got to do better. And somebody around him has got to tell him the truth: he needs to be accountable for that type of language. It’s beneath him.”

Game analyst Van Gundy: "Amen … But that’s not my whole problem with where we are going with this. We [ESPN] are supposedly partners with the league, right? We’re not. It’s one sided. We used to get access to players for paying a billion dollars. Now they don’t feel like they have to come in [to talk to the broadcasters] and we can’t ask them these questions. Because when you say stuff like that, you should have to address them."

Breen: “The league has not addressed it just yet but…"

Van Gundy: "I’ll tell you what, they would if it was a white guy saying it. That’s for sure. And they should have. They should have already addressed it and said, “No matter who says that, we are not going to be tolerant of that type of language.”

Jackson: "I’ll tell you what, you just hit it out of the park. You are 100 percent correct. That type of language is inexcusable no matter who uses it."

Van Gundy: "And I thought the media was trying to apologize. 'Oh, this is how he does it. He’s just trying to be funny, he’s trying to make people squirm.' You know what? Just give us  the quotes. We don’t have to try and be an apologist."

2a. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Fox Sports would like Tony Romo to be the analyst on its No. 2 team, replacing John Lynch, who left to become the Niners’ general manager in late January. It’s an interesting dilemma for Romo. Top in-game broadcast analyst jobs (I’m talking top two teams at a network) do not come along often. He also can clearly still play. Here’s The Big Lead’s Kyle Koster examining Romo’s choices

2b. Sports Media Watch reported that ESPN drew 1.0 million viewers for an NFL Insiders free agency special Thursday afternoon—up 256% from last year, when coverage aired on ESPN2 (288K). The site also reported an episode of NFL Live which followed the special drew 796,000 viewers. These are great numbers for an NFL studio show in March.

3. Episode 107 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features ESPN NFL analyst Jim Trotter, who appears on NFL Insiders, SportsCenter and other ESPN programs. Trotter previously worked at Sports Illustrated and the San Diego Union-Tribune. In this podcast, Trotter discusses the coverage of Roger Goodell and the league office by the NFL media and whether it is effective; why Goodell and NFL owners are not accessible to media; the impact of access journalism in the NFL and whether that’s good or bad for the public; morphing from print/digital work to television; how the NFL Hall of Fame voting works inside the room; what the Hall of Fame future will be for Paul Tagliabue and Terrell Owens; why Hall of Famer voters should be criticized for a lack of transparency; why Trotter makes his vote public; how voters see players who treated the media poorly during their career; how Trotter was laid off by SI and what he did in the immediate days afterward; the advice ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio gave him about appearing on television; how fans outside of San Diego should view what is happening with the Chargers; and much more.

4. Sports piece of note:

• From Rick Maese of The Washington Post: Sealed federal court documents provide a glimpse of NFL's relationship with powerful pain medication

Salt Lake Tribune sports writer Christopher Kamrani examined minor league hockey enforcers

• From Andrew Carter of The News & Observer: For 40 years, Woody Durham was the voice of North Carolina athletics, their radio play-by-play man. Now, a neurocognitive disease threatens to rob him of his ability to speak 

• Via Matt Norlander of CBS Two years ago, a puzzling plane crash forever changed Illinois State. These are the stories of families behind the tragedy

• From The New York Times:  The Rise, Then Shame, of Baylor Nation

• From Indianapolis Monthly and Bob Knight's bizarre—and sad—legacy

How did the Lakers get here? The inside story of the Buss drama, by Ramona Shelburne of 

• SI’s Tom Verducci on the curious case of Andrew McCutchen

• B/R columnist Greg Couch on Lonzo Ball

New York Times sports writer James Wagner profiled Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, a cancer survivor

Non sports pieces of note:

• The Ringer’s Jordan Ritter Conn on two survivors of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, and the brother of the youngest victim, Akyra Murray 

• Via GQ’s Justin Heckert: The world’s heaviest man loses it all

• Why you should be paying attention to North Korea:

• From The Intercept’s Lillian Segura: How Junk Arson Science Convicted a Mother of Killing Her Own Daughters 

• A Miami lawyer's pants erupt into flames during closing arguments in arson trial 

• From CJR’s Danny Funt: What happens in Vegas, Norm Clarke knows

• From Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Tim Bella: Hip-Hop’s Unlikeliest Icons: Promethazine Codeine Syrup Manufacturers

• Via Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue: Why I Don’t Believe Trump’s International Women’s Day Tweet

• From Foreign Policy: North Korea is preparing for nuclear war

5. Kudos to SportsCenter 6 p.m segment producer Talaya Wilkins and lead producer Jasmine Alexander senior creative director Chris Mantzaris, animator Sharrieff Hall and editor Jeremy Edney for an exceptionally-produced video tribute to “A Different World” that ran last week prior to that edition of SportsCenter. Some backstory: One of ESPN anchor Cari Champion’s producers, Delena Turman, is the daughter of Glynn Turman, a terrific actor who played Colonel Bradford Taylor on the NBC sitcom that ran from 1987-93. (Turman also played Baltimore mayor Clarence Royce on the HBO drama series The Wire.)

The SportsCenter video featured four of the original cast members of A Different World – Thurman, Dawnn Lewis, Sinbad, and Darryl M. Bell—as well as cameos from fellow SportsCenter anchors Champion, David Lloyd, Hannah Storm, Elle Duncan, Kevin Negandhi, Jay Harris, Jaymee Sire, and Sarina Morales. “Delana put in a word for us to not only get her father, but some of the others,” said Jemele Hill, the host of the 6PM SportsCenter along with Michael Smith. Nice work.

5a. The thrilling second leg of the Barcelona-Paris St. Germain UEFA Champions League Round of 16 series, which Barcelona won 6-1 to make up a four-goal aggregate deficit, had 384,000 viewers on FS1 Wednesday afternoon, according to Sports Media Watch. The first leg of Barca-PSG, on February 14, drew 261,000 viewers.

5b. Very cool scene from the MediaPro control room during Barcelona’s remarkable comeback over PSG:

5c. Univision Deportes said for the period from January 1 through February 26, 2017, it had higher primetime viewership in primetime than NBC Sports Network, NFL Network, NBA TV, Golf Channel, ESPNU, Fox Deportes, ESPN Deportes, MLB Network, The Tennis Channel, beIN SPORTS en Español, FS2 and beIN SPORTS.

5d. The Duke-North Carolina game on March 4 drew 4.061 million viewers on ESPN, the most-watched regular season college basketball game in two seasons. The total live audience (TV + streaming) drew 4,164,000 viewers, up 28% from last season’s game in early March. ESPN said this is the third consecutive season a game between Duke and North Carolina is college basketball’s most-watched game of the year. The top-rated markets were Louisville, Raleigh-Durham, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Greensboro-High Point.

5e. NASCAR and SiriusXM extended their broadcasting and marketing agreement through 2022. SiriusXM airs live broadcasts of every race, plus daily NASCAR talk and interviews through SiriusXM NASCAR Radio channel.

5f. CBS’s primetime boxing bout last Saturday (produced by Showtime) averaged 3.1 million viewers. Showtime said it was the third-most watched live boxing event on broadcast television since 1998 behind an Aug. 2016 Errol Spence Jr. vs. Leonard Bundu broadcast and Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero in 2015.

5g. An interview with four female reporters at the Washington Postwho are currently covering D.C.’s sports teams.