A Year of Refinement for CBS’s Tournament Coverage

Last year, CBS Sports hit its stride with coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Broadcasting the Final Four from a football venue, Detroit’s Ford Field, the production team got plenty of valuable feedback to integrate into this year’s coverage, which will again put the Final Four in a football venue, Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium. For this year’s production, CBS will focus less on new-gadget implementation and more on production refinements.

“This is one of the years where we’re keeping things pretty much the same,” says Harold Bryant, VP of production for CBS Sports. “We were happy with the production last year, and we’re going to use a very similar setup and work on tweaking it and improving it. Our big focus has been on the 3D, so, on the production side, we’ll just be refining what we’ve got.”

CBS will have four full production teams in Indianapolis for this year’s Final Four: the traditional CBS Sports TV production, CBS College Sports Network, the world feed, and a 3D feed that will be shown in movie theaters across the country. Although the 3D broadcast will crowd the compound — and the court — a bit, the main television broadcast has its first pick of camera positions, so Bryant has not had to make any concessions because of the other three productions in attendance.

“One of the things this year that’s really helping us out is, CBS is overseeing all four of the productions,” he says. “Production and technical are all working together, so it makes things easier. There haven’t been any changes because of 3D or any of the other feeds. If we’ve got a camera in one position, they’ll take the position right next to it.”

A Familiar Place
Lucas Oil Stadium is not a new venue for the CBS team, having broadcast several football games out of the Indianapolis Colts’ home as part of its NFL AFC package. But the basketball setup inside the arena is quite different from a football setup, presenting some new challenges to the production crew.

“It does help doing football out of there, with the positioning of trucks, but the setup is completely new with the basketball arena being right in the middle of the field,” Bryant says. “It’s good to have some experience there, but, with different camera positions from the football positions, there are still a lot of things we have to work through.”

At the top of that working list are lighting and audio. his team is working directly with the stadium to ensure that supplemental lighting is brought in if necessary. Audio changes are made in-house, within the CBS production team.

“We don’t want it to sound cavernous; we want it to sound intimate,” Bryant points out. “We’ve repositioned mics to make sure we’re hearing those sneaker sounds, the ball hitting the rim — the sounds that you would hear if you were at a game. We haven’t necessarily added any equipment, but we’re refocusing and placing things in different areas.”

For the HD coverage of the Final Four, CBS will use 20 cameras, including one hard super-slo-mo, three handheld super-slo-mos, six robotic cams, a jib, and the ActionCam. Three Vizrt graphics engines will also be on hand, alongside 11 EVS servers: six multicamera edit/replay devices, one SpotBox, and four super-slo-mo replay devices. One linear edit suite and one Avid non-linear edit suite will also support the production.

CBS’s pre-game action will also use 100% HDTV equipment, including seven cameras, three EVS multicamera edit/replay devices, two SpotBoxes, and three Vizrt graphics engines.

The Long Production Road to Indy
However, CBS’s work begins long before the Final Four. Starting with the tournament’s first tipoff, CBS has trucks and crews at sites across the country to cover the three-week tournament, and Bryant has the final say on what viewers see and when in the crucial final moments of those overlapping opening-round games.

“The toughest part is at the end of games, when you’ve got three or four games that are within 3 minutes of each other,” Bryant says. “You try to make sure that all of the audience knows what’s going on across the board in all of the events. We bounce back and forth, give people updates, take them over to a tight second or third game, and try to coordinate all of these finishes. That’s the toughest part.”

With the help of CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus and CBS Sports EVP of Programming Mike Aresco, Bryant makes that final call on what audience goes where and when four times a day, during each of four windows (two in the morning and two in the evening).

“The final call is usually mine, but Sean and Mike are right there with me,” he says. “I pull the trigger to move an audience to the end of the Syracuse game, for example. The three of us work together, and I pass on the information.”

Crews From Coast to Coast
In order to cover games from 13 sites from Spokane, WA, to Springfield, MA, CBS has tapped four mobile-truck companies — NEP, NCP, F&F, and Corplex — and field crews from coast to coast.

“We look first to the veterans that we trust that have worked for us for many years,” Bryant explains. “But we also try to be smart about it and regionalize people. If we’ve got a site in Milwaukee and we’ve got some good cameramen out there, then they’ll be working in Milwaukee. Then, we fly people out to fill holes at sites where we don’t have people.”

Bryant’s team is always looking for the best of the best when it comes to crews, so he will bring back individuals who stood out during regular-season football games or other CBS Sports events throughout the year.

“New people do come into the mix every year,” he says. “We have a big meeting where we talk philosophy, coverage at the end of games, how we want to stay traditional so we don’t miss any shots, how we want to cover free throws, things like that. We talk, we debate, we ask tons of questions, and that meeting is very important to the production.”

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off on Thursday March 18 at noon ET on CBS.

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