Live From Men’s Final Four: CBS, Turner Bring Their Best For an NCAA Championship for the Ages

Turner’s Craig Barry: “Every piece of technology has to extend the narrative”

It’s a blockbuster that CBS Sports and Turner Sports could only dream of.

At the 2022 Men’s Final Four, March Madness comes to an epic conclusion with a highly anticipated matchup of four of the biggest programs in the history of the sport: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Villanova.

RailCam is one of 34 games exclusively dedicated to game production by Turner and CBS at the 2022 Final Four at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. This year’s RailCam is outfitted with a super slow-mo camera for the first time.

To meet the demands of this highly-anticipated showdown, CBS and Turner have rolled into the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans with 34 game production cameras, 18 studio cameras, multiple sets in and around the dome, and nearly 20 EVS servers. It’s an effort worthy of the occasion.

“Sports is match-up driven,” says Craig Barry, EVP/Chief Content Officer, Turner Sports. “It always has been, it always will be. It doesn’t always determine the drama of the event, but it definitely helps determine the dramatic impact of an event. To have Duke, UNC, Kansas, and Villanova, it’s going to be unprecedented.”

A massive onsite presence is here from both of the teams at CBS Sports and Turner Sports and, together, it’s feeling an awful lot like 2019 as the broadcaster is coming with the operations and production punch that the industry has come to expect from them over the years.

On the specialty camera front, Final Four staples like SkyCam Wildcat (the four-point cabled aerial camera system), RailCam (which has a slow-motion camera on it for the first time this year), and a large Techno Jib (which is capable of displaying augmented reality graphics via solutions from RACELOGIC and Pixotope) are in the building. There are also nine Fletcher robotics set up in various key positions across the dome.

New additions include a C360 camera mounted on a Fletcher robotic head underneath the Caesars Superdome centerhung videoboard.

Turner and CBS are also expanding their real-time virtual graphics package. The broadcasters are continuing a decades-long relationship with graphics specialist SMT to, this year, introduce enhanced on-court graphics, like the virtual shot zone and virtual player cards that can be inserted onto the court in real-time via SMT’s Camera Tracker technology.

Both SkyCam Wildcat and a virtual Techno-Jib prepare for Saturday’s Final Four matchup during a pregame rehearsal.

There will be plenty of bells and whistles on these shows, but Barry is quick to caution that while this is a Final Four matchup so mouthwatering that it could be tempting to throw the production equivalent to the kitchen sink at it, its where he, CBS Sports Executive Producer/EVP Harold Bryant and the lead operations unit of Chris Brown, Jason Cohen, Mike Francis, Steve Leotta, Evelyn Jackson, Lee Estroff, Dan Nabors, and Jen Vanderbilt need to reel it in.

“Every piece of technology has to extend the narrative,” says Barry. “Do we want to try out a technology that may or may not extend the narrative or would we rather drop four more super-mo cams, where we know we are going to create a better experience and connect to the fan emotionally?”

The Final Four production’s graphics package includes new virtual enhancements, like a shot zone and player cards that can be inserted onto the court with support from SMT. (Photo Courtesy of Marcus Brown, SMT)

“[Duke-North Carolina], Barry continues, “is, historically, one of the biggest match ups in Final Four history. It’s all hands on deck to do this show justice and bring something really special to the fans, without focusing on – and I’ll use this word loosely – any gimmicks. We’re bringing a robust broadcast, where we tell the story of the games that are being played.”

In addition to the elite level matchups, this Final Four is bolstered by the return of live fans, following the cancelation of the tournament in 2020 and an attendance-limited event in 2021. According to Bryant, that energy brings better visuals to the show but also goes a long way into spilling over to fuel the energy of the crew behind the scenes.

“The opportunity to have the energy in the arena again [has been fantastic],” says Bryant. “And that’s not just in the arena, it’s the energy in the studio, the energy in the truck, the energy in the control rooms. We’ve been really leveraging that and bringing that into the broadcast.  We need to make sure that we have the technology and the assets to harness that. You can add technology, you can build storylines, but [the atmosphere] was the one large differentiator for us that we really felt was going to push us back to normalization.”

CBS and Turner have their traditional studio set in position for pregame, halftime, and postgame. It’s one of three sets in the city to support studio programming.

A big part of that normalization is engaging with the fan directly on site. That’s done through the three full studio sets that are onsite here for both pregame, halftime, and postgame programming, as well as studio programming surrounding the event all weekend.

Turner and CBS have their standard set position in the Superdome bowl immediately behind one of the student sections. They also have a studio set just outside the dome in Champions Square to take in the atmosphere here as fans make their way into the game and another over at St. Peter’s Boulevard in the French Quarter.

Back in the compound, the main game show will be produced out of Game Creek Video’s 79, while all studio programming will originate from NEP Supershooter 32 and ST32. Super B is supporting compound transmission. Arctek also has three trucks providing satellite support; two for the main broadcast rightsholder. Arctek Purple, a C-Band truck, is supporting transmission of studio shows on TBS and Arctek Black (also C-Band) is supporting the CBS studio out at St. Peter’s.

Turner Sports and CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2o22 NCAA Men’s Final Four takes place Saturday evening on TBS. The University of Kansas battles Villanova University at 6:09 p.m. ET. The University of North Carolina will face off against Duke University on Saturday, April 2 at 8:49 p.m. ET on TBS. The National Championship Game airs Monday night on TBS.

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