Next week marks the launch of what is widely considered to be the largest joint-venture production in the history of sports television. CBS and Turner Sports will combine to produce 67 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games over the span of 23 days. Although the undertaking is massive, the resources are plentiful, as the two companies pool their equipment, crew, talent, and philosophies at venues across the country.
“We took our two remote-operation groups — led by Tom Sahara from Turner, Ken Aagaard from CBS, and John McCrae from CBS — and combined the two groups,” says Jeff Behnke, Turner Sports executive producer/SVP of Turner Sports. “We went through and separated who was going to handle trucks, who was going to handle crewing, but it was an absolute joint effort. Everybody uses the same great trucks throughout the country so there is nothing new there.”
Production Enhancements Aplenty
Four networks’ worth of coverage means four networks’ worth of resources, resulting in several major production enhancements for the 2011 tournament.
“This deal means we have plenty of resources at our disposal and many different ways to use those resources,” says Harold Bryant, VP of production, CBS Sports. “Every single venue will have some type of enhancement on the production side this year. We’ve tried to spread out the enhancements, but every single game will have some.”
Chief among these enhancements will be robotic cameras atop backboards at every arena. In the past, these robo-cams have been deployed only for selected games. This year, however, viewers will get a bird’s-eye view of the action in the paint at every single game.
Additional cameras and tools will be deployed at games throughout the country, including an increased arsenal of super-slo-mo systems and low slash positions. According to Bryant, at least one venue will be outfitted with an ActionCam aerial camera system. In addition, several sites will deploy a Definitive Look camera, an overhead robotic camera that gives viewers (and officials) a closeup view of a player’s foot to determine if he was behind the three-point line.
Bryant notes that the Definitive Look cameras will be used in several venues: “Not every venue will have these new [cameras], but you will see plenty of new twists. We want all the games to be special and equal, all to be just as big as the next.”
New Graphics, Same Music
CBS and Turner have built a universal graphics package that will be used for every tournament game, regardless of the network on which it airs. Scoreboards, transitions, and additional elements will feature network-specific logos, but the basic graphics look will be uniform across CBS, TNT, TBS, and truTV.
“We want to make sure that the audience knows that we were all working together as a group, but there will also be specific branding for each network within the graphics,” says Bryant. “For example, a scoreboard or a replay wipe for a game on TNT will have a TNT logo incorporated into it. But we will also co-brand all four networks when we’re doing big-picture stuff that might be used across all four networks.”
CBS’s iconic NCAA basketball theme song has been slightly rescored for this year’s tournament, but the majority of the music beds will ring familiar to viewers.
“We will basically be using all the same music beds,” says Bryant. “The NCAA theme is back, but we’ve updated it a little bit for this year.”
Reporters Return to Sidelines
Sideline reporters will return to tournament coverage after a short hiatus. CBS Sports previously used reporters on-site but decided to “go in a different direction about five or six years ago,” according to Bryant. However, this year’s coverage will take advantage of Turner’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to sideline talent.
“Turner has infused some new energy and a new thought process so we’re going to find new ways to incorporate reporters into the broadcast,” says Bryant. “We’ve got so much shoulder programming that reporters are going to be very important for us to tell the stories we need to tell.”
Transmission Stays at CBS
The CBS Broadcast Center in New York City will serve as the transmission hub for all NCAA Tournament games. The facility will house the primary studio show, take in feeds for every game, and handle commercial insertion.
“We’re going to run everything out of New York,” says Bryant. “All of the games are going to be fed into [the CBS Broadcast Center] and then fed out to the four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. We’ve been working on [integrating] the two transmission operations for six months. The teams in Atlanta and New York have come together to figure out how those feeds are going to be broadcast.”
Although a second studio will be located at Turner’s Atlanta headquarters, no game-transmission or commercial-insertion operations will take place there.
“All our commercials are being rolled out of New York,” says Behnke. “Everything is centralized in New York in terms of signal flow and transmission.”
Cooperation Is Key
It has been almost a full year since the landmark 14-year, $10.8 billion deal between CBS and Turner was announced, but the fruits of the partnership are just now surfacing. Not surprisingly, both Behnke and Bryant say that cooperation has been the key from day one.
“Like any marriage, there is a little give and take, and we’re both learning that,” says Bryant. “Both production groups are trying to figure out what works. There are some great things that Turner does, and we’ve incorporated those into the event [along with] some great things that we do that Turner has incorporated into the event.”
Behnke adds, “CBS has been doing college basketball for 30 years, and we’ve been televising basketball for 27 years, so producing and directing a game is something that we’re very familiar with. It’s just about getting the information out to all of our group.”