Ten Questions (and Answers) Related to the $10.8 Billion Deal Between CBS Sports, Turner Broadcasting System, and the NCAA

The massive $10.8 billion deal signed today between the NCAA and CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting System that calls for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament to be delivered by CBS Sports and Turner cable networks, Websites, and mobile device platforms through 2024 signals a new era in the relationship between broadcast and cable networks. Here is a guide to the deal, what it means to all involved, and how it will impact fans and the remote production business.

What is the impact on how CBS Sports currently produces the tournament?

Sean McManus, CBS Sports president, says that both CBS and Turner Broadcasting System will coordinate production of the games and that all games will be coordinated in one location. “Both organizations have terrific production assets and are used to producing big sporting events,” says McManus. “It won’t be us producing our games and Turner producing theirs but rather joint productions that promote both networks as a total team.”

Looking ahead one thing that can probably be expected is that Turner’s production trucks will play a big role in the production of the games.

How will the deal impact how fans watch the tournament?

The great news for NCAA men’s hoops fans is that beginning in 2011 every tournament basketball game will have national exposure on one of four distribution outlets: local CBS stations, TBS, TNT, and truTV. For the first weekend of the tournament that not only means less griping from fans but also less stress at CBS Sports, which won’t have to juggle as much at the end of games to ensure that fans don’t miss an exciting finish.

“There will still be look-ins for highlights of other games but if someone is watching Duke play Syracuse that will be the game they will be watching,” says McManus.

After the first round, CBS and Turner will split regional semi-final games and CBS will provide coverage of the regional finals and Final Four through 2015.

What happens in 2016?

In 2016 Turner gets into the Final Four/National Championship Game action. From 2016 through 2024, the Final Four and Championship Game will alternate between CBS and Turner’s TBS network.

Why isn’t CBS College Sports one of the networks that will carry games?

McManus says the amount of exposure needed on cable didn’t allow for CBS College Sports to be part of the package and CBS College Sports will also lose the two first round games it has broadcast the past two years.

“CBS College Sports will still have a presence during highlights and the tournament,” adds McManus.

What about streaming of the games?

NCAA March Madness on Demand, the video player that provides live streaming video of the NCAA Div. I Men’s Basketball Championship, will continue to be launched from NCAA.com and CBSSports.com, but Turner has also secured the rights for any Time Warner digital property to offer streaming as well. The player will be operated and developed by Turner and have enhanced digital rights allowing the NCAA to deliver content for multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms.

With all of the games available nationally the popularity of the online product will answer one question: are fans tuning in online because the game they want to watch isn’t available or because they are stuck at work?

Then again, the true NCAA Tourney junkie can fire up one TV with an over-the-air antenna for the CBS game, tune into TBS on a second TV for a second game, watch a third on a computer, and watch a fourth game on their phone.

The tournament is expanding to 68 games but there was a lot of talk in recent weeks about expanding to 96 games. What happened to the plan to expand the tournament to 96 games?

Interim NCAA President James Isch says that the talk about moving to 96 games wasn’t really a serious consideration for the NCAA board of directors, despite all the conjecture in the press. “Going to 68 games was relatively easy for the NCAA to understand,” he says. “It’s less complicated and 68 games is where the most interest was.”

That said, the NCAA has to now figure out how the 68 teams will fit into a bracket. It will no doubt be easier than this scenario.

Does the financing of the deal hinge on the NCAA tourney eventually expanding to 96 teams?

No. Both CBS and Turner says the deal was structured to be financially viable even if the tournament does not expand to 96 teams.

How long have CBS and Turner Sports been talking about this deal?

While the NCAA has been working on getting a new contract since 2004, McManus and Dave Levy, Turner Broadcasting System, president of sales, distribution and sports, say that conversations heated up last October. “We knew we were going to work together, it was just a matter of how we would structure the deal,” says Levy.

Could CBS Sports have continued to carry the NCAA tournament on its own?

McManus adds that CBS Sports was ready to finish the final three years of its current contract for the Tournament but that the new deal works out much better for the network. He also makes it very clear that having a cable partner, and the ability to generate revenues in that marketplace, were important for CBS Sports to compete with a bid from the likes of ESPN

Levy, answering a question from the media about whether or not Turner was “bailing out” CBS, says, “Bailing out is not what we’re doing or something we would ever do. Ultimately all revenue and all expenses will be shared.”

Also expect the sales forces to collaborate and work together on sponsorship packages and more.

CBS Sports this year produced the Final Four in 3D. Does this deal improve the chances that 3D could be back next year?

Yes. With CBS over-the-air stations currently unable to deliver 3D to viewers at home this deal gives the tournament a natural outlet for a 3D production over cable. Of course, the big question is whether the consumer electronics industry will still have the financial resources to back 3D productions next year.

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