Turner and CBS have shared the NCAA Basketball Tournament since 2011, but sometime soon (originally in 2016, though there are rumors that this arrangement may begin as soon as next year -- stay tuned) the Turner half of the equation will get bigger, with cable finally getting access to the Final Four and the national championship game. There will likely be much written about the migration of sports' biggest events from broadcast to cable and what that means. Thankfully, we're still a little while away from that.
With that out of the way, let's discuss how CBS and Turner (TNT, TBS, TruTV) have done with the NCAA Tournament since they formed an alliance -- which is what you do in sports TV to keep direct competitors out of the picture nowadays -- in 2010 to broadcast every game of the tournament nationally. You can give me your own opinion in the comments -- I don't claim to be any sort of expert on college hoops, I just know a bit about television -- but I personally think the good has outweighed the bad.
The good is pretty simple: the typical viewer, the one who just wants to channel surf and not bother using their laptop or their mobile device, is no longer at the whims of CBS. CBS used to broadcast three to four games regionally in four separate timeslots per day during opening weekend, and two or three during the second weekend. They chose what you got to watch. Take, for example, the New York market where I reside. Not everyone is a fan of, say, Seton Hall or Rider or St. John's, but if they were in the opening round of the tournament, CBS had to show them here, regardless of whether or not Duke or North Carolina or UConn were playing. Now, it doesn't matter: you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want.
The bad? Well, I have a couple of complaints. Basketball fans still aren't conditioned to find TruTV. I know it's nice of Turner to throw the budding network these opening round games every year, but why can't they just be on TBS or TNT? TruTV already has access to regular NCAA Tournament games, why force fans to have to find it earlier? It's just easier, and it would be better for the ratings and the overall buzz of the tourney, to start it up on TBS and/or TNT.
Secondly, the mashup of CBS and Turner's basketball personalities still hasn't quite worked. Greg Gumbel and Greg Anthony of CBS will once again share a studio with TNT's Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and, of course, Charles Barkley, and there still is a lack of chemistry when you mix these groups together. Smith, Barkley and Anthony do not work together during the regular season, and Smith and Barkley don't work at all during the college basketball regular season. While Chuck and Kenny are always entertaining, the chemistry can be a little off. Plus, splitting Ernie from Charles and Kenny (which CBS will do again this year) is always a bit disappointing.
Overall, however, the alliance has proved valuable, and it has improved the way the NCAA Tournament is broadcast on television. While there's a bit of romantic nostalgia about CBS whipping around the country during opening weekend, it's probably a lot better for us to just do it ourselves. It keeps the people who care the most about March Madness (college kids, people who fill out bracket pools, etc.) as informed and engaged with the tournament as possible, and whenever you can overserve a fanbase, everybody tends to win.
2013 NCAA Tournament broadcast teams for CBS and Turner
Mar. 19: Marv Albert (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (color), Craig Sager (reporter)
Mar. 20: TBD (CBS will announce on Selection Sunday)
Second and Third-Round Games, Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four
1. Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Clark Kellogg (color), Tracy Wolfson (reporter)
Second and Third-Round Games, Sweet 16, Elite 8
2. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
3. Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Rachel Nichols
4. Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Len Elmore, Lewis Johnson
Second and Third-Round Games
5. Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
6. Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner, Marty Snider
7. Tim Brando, Mike Gminski, Otis Livingston
8. Spiro Dedes, Doug Gottlieb, Jamie Maggio
Hosts: Greg Gumbel, Ernie Johnson, Matt Winer
Analysts: Charles Barkley, Greg Anthony, Kenny Smith, Doug Gottlieb, Seth Davis, Steve Smith
Contributor: Lesley Visser