We just wrapped one of the biggest events on the annual television calendar: March Madness. Each year, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament brings with it a host of great traditions. Hoops lovers nationwide gather around the shared love of the sport and competition.
This year, it was a different kind of event. 2011 marked year one of the 14-year partnership between the NCAA, CBS, and Turner Broadcasting, which introduced radical changes to the way people watch. For 30 years on CBS, programmers decided what areas of the country would get to see what games. Coverage was essentially regionalized. But this year, for the first time, every game was broadcast nationally in its entirety, spread across four networks: CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV, making fans the programmers of their own tourney–no more switching by CBS.
While more choice is a good thing for viewers, change is hard. From the network perspective, it takes a lot of work and coordination behind the scenes to successfully pull this off. Together with our partners at the NCAA and Turner, we used every platform available to us–on-air promos, graphics, Facebook and Twitter blasts, online guides, and more–to educate viewers on what to expect and how to watch the games. To help them navigate, we showed graphics with the scores and networks of the three other simultaneous contests at the top of the screen.
It didn’t take long–people found it right away and the fans loved it. The result? One of the biggest events in television became even bigger. Overall viewership for all games was up 7 percent and reached the highest levels since 2005.
We welcome this new partnership. Not only does it give fans more of what they want, it also gives CBS a wide audience of people who may not normally watch us in prime time. It allows us to show off our brand and to promote other shows on our network to people we might not otherwise reach. In a world filled with never-ending media choice, this is a real benefit. Add to that the fact that live sports are virtually DVR-proof, and you have the ingredients for a very tasty meal of media marketing!
As part of my personal March Madness tradition, I attend the Final Four games on Saturday each year. I visit with the CBS Sports crew, explore the venue, check out behind-the-scenes activity, and learn as much as I can about marketing sports in the digital age.
Here I am pictured at Reliant Stadium with Bob Fishman, the lead director of CBS Sport’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship and Final Four coverage. Bob started at CBS News as a production assistant 40 years ago (I started in Radio News as a desk assistant). He learned from giants in the field and later transferred from special events in news (space shots, inaugurations, election nights) to sports where, over the past 35 years, he’s become one of the top directors in the business. Today, Bob’s job is literally to “call the shots,” deciding which of dozens and dozens of cameras and replays we all get to see during a live event. You have to be talented, smart ,and quick to be a top live sports director. Bob is all that and more. And, a lesser known fact: he’s also an amazing guitar player who does rock-and-roll fantasy camp to stay sharp.
And of course I caught up with my buddy Butler Blue II, whom I visited with last year as well. He’s no doubt still sleeping off a disappointing loss Monday night to the University of Connecticut Huskies. Both this year and last I pet him on Saturday and his team won. But I wasn’t there Monday each year and they lost. Coincidence? Worry not, pal–you’ll have yet another opportunity to be top dog. Maybe next year I’ll stick around to help break the spell. That’s the beauty of the Big Dance…there’s always next year.
Now it’s time to cut the nets and shift into high gear on the prime-time development and marketing front. So stay tuned!