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How The NCAA Tournament Went From Tape Delay To TV Juggernaut

“Imagine living in the Midwest or East at the time and only getting to see the great UCLA teams of that day in the title game.”

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Believe it or not, there was a time when you couldn’t watch every NCAA Tournament game live. Hard to fathom now that you can not only watch all the games live, but you can stream them as well. At any given time, you can dial in one of the four networks covering the action, CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV and see a live game in its entirety. There were some 12 hours of games brought to you live during each day of the first weekend. It’s incredible and what every college basketball fan dreams of. It wasn’t always that way. 

Back in the day, the telecasts were pretty raw. Not many graphics and no score bug. The score and time left would flash up after a made basket and going to and coming back from commercial breaks. Imagine tuning into a game in progress and not knowing the score? How spoiled have we gotten? The answer? Very. 

If you have Direct TV, turn to ch 205 to watch all four games at once. :  CollegeBasketball

Thankfully the tournament broadcast has evolved as quickly as my bracket was busted on night number one of the big dance. That’s pretty fast, you’ll just have to trust me on that. So how did we get to the point of being able to see every game from start to finish? It was a long slow process that eventually caught up to the needs of the rabid fan. 

The current format is more than fans could ask for. When the contract between the NCAA, CBS and Turner was signed after the 2010 Tournament, some were skeptical. The fact that games were going to be spread out over several networks was unique for sure. Would fans embrace what seemed chaotic? 

“That’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s a better programming option for the viewer at home and the basketball fan,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2010. “More work on his or her part to find the game, but they get to decide what game they want to watch. In the past, I think we did a very good job of moving around, but it was our decision.” A costly decision with the deal worth a reported 10.8-billion dollars. 

“The tournament’s success outgrew one network’s ability to provide the coverage fans were looking for,” David Levy, then the president of Turner Sports, said in 2010. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. This current deal solved the issue of ‘cutaways’ and also infused talent from both CBS and the Turner properties together. Greg Gumbel, Ernie Johnson Jr, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Clark Kellogg, Seth Davis and others joined forces to provide in-depth and informative studio shows. The collaboration is working. 

Let’s dive into a little history here on the tournament, which was really the second fiddle to the NIT for many years until the 1960’s. The first broadcast of the NCAA Tournament championship game dates back to 1946. New York’s CBS-TV televised the Oklahoma State vs. North Carolina game, won by the Cowboys. It was estimated that an audience of just 500-thousand saw the title contest. 

It wasn’t until 1952 that games were televised regionally for the first time. Then in 1954 La Salle defeated Bradley in the first nationally televised title game. It all changed in 1969. NBC paid about a half million dollars for the rights to the tournament. They televised a doubleheader on the opening day of the tournament, then allowing each market to get two of the four regional final games. 

The Final Four started on a Thursday, but each market would get just one of the games. Can you imagine today only getting a chance to see ONE of the national semifinal games? Championship and consolation games were played on a Saturday and both were televised by NBC. 

In those days teams were divided into brackets based on geography. So, East Coast teams were placed in the East Region. The other regions were the West, Mideast and Midwest. You would only get East regional matchups televised in the Eastern part of the country and so on. Imagine living in the Midwest or East at the time and only getting to see the great UCLA teams of that day in the title game.

The Greatest College Basketball Team of All Time – A Sip of Sports

NBC would eventually expand some of its coverage in the early 1970’s, finally airing both national semifinal games. In the late 70’s NBC included opening weekend Sunday games and prime time regional coverage of four regional semifinal games, one for each market. 

Things started to change for the better when, in 1980, an infant sports network known as ESPN got into the fray. ESPN picked up the NCAA Productions feeds of a couple of games on the opening Thursday night and then three on the first Friday night of the tournament. ESPN also picked up these feeds for the regional semifinals the following Thu/Fri carrying five games live and the other three on tape delay. Not a perfect situation, but better. Then CBS entered the picture. 

In 1982 CBS debuted the Selection Sunday Show to announce the teams that made the tournament and what matchups were ahead. CBS added coverage of the opening round with live late-night games from the West Region on Thursday and Friday at 11:30 pm in the eastern time zone. The coverage featured a tripleheader on the first Saturday as well. ESPN stayed in the picture for the time being, picking up the NCAA Productions feeds and carried live doubleheaders on the opening Thursday and Friday nights. ESPN also ran many games on tape delay after the CBS 11:30 telecast both nights.

The coverage further expanded in 1983 and 1984, but then the tournament itself expanded to 64 teams in 1985. CBS would step up their game. This resulted in almost non-stop basketball for nearly 55 consecutive hours from Thursday at noon through early Saturday evening. Things stayed largely the same until 1991, when ESPN was cut out of the picture and CBS began a new seven-year contract that was for upwards of one-billion dollars. This time the deal included live coverage of all sessions of the championship. No more tape delay. 

In 1999 DirecTV entered the picture with the Mega March Madness package. That enabled viewers to see every out-of-market region games during the first three rounds of the tourney. 

In the years to follow, the NCAA Tournament was available as a live stream. CBSSports.com and later the official March Madness Live app provided you coverage of the games. Remember the “boss” button? If you were watching on your computer, you’d hit the button and a fake spreadsheet would pop up to make it seem like you were still working. Ingenious.  

Things kind of stayed status-quo until 2007. That’s when CBS allowed what was then called CSTV, now known as CBS Sports Network, to air one of the regular network’s games each day on the first Thursday and Friday. This was the case until 2009. 

Everything changed after the 2010 Tournament. The mega-deal between the NCAA and it’s now two television partners, CBS and the Turner Networks gave us what is today our “new normal” when watching games. Yes, they are spread out across a multitude of channels, but the games are in HD, the graphics are terrific and the basketball itself has been very entertaining. 

Think of how far we’ve come from the early days of the tournament and television. Watching the games in 1990, just 31 years ago, you wouldn’t have known any better not to see on your screen how many timeouts each team had. Right? Could you even have imagined the possibility of seeing the shot clock on your screen at all times? Going back even a little further to 1970, would you have been so bold to demand to watch a game live instead of tape delay? Mindboggling to think that we used to rely on announcers and us actually paying attention to know the details of a game without being spoon fed the info. We weren’t looking at our smart phones or typing on our iPads or tablets either. 

Redesigned NCAA March Madness Live App Expands Platforms

Some of you were not around before this wealth of technology and graphics so you are probably reading in horror. It wasn’t so bad, it’s all we knew. Though if given the choice I’d much prefer today’s telecasts. The information, the camera shots, the in-game reports from the sidelines and graphics to support all of the above make it a much more enjoyable watch. Oh and of course there’s our “One Shining Moment”. What did we ever do without that? 

In saying all this, there is just one question left to ask; what does TruTV actually show the other 11 months of the year?

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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