For Madness of March, CBS College Launches into 56 Million Homes

This month, CBS College Sports Network will use the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship as a springboard to increase its distribution and, hopefully, grow the network’s year-long popularity. Currently available in 38 million homes, the network is offering a free preview March 8-April 5, allowing affiliates to open the network’s signal to more than 56 million households for the length of the tournament. Working alongside CBS Sports, CBS College will be the official cable home of the tournament and will offer plenty of shoulder programming that network executives hope will keep viewers tuning in after a champion is crowned.

“We’re really excited about our free preview,” says Steve Herbst, EVP/GM of CBS College Sports Network. “The strides that we’ve made over the last year have been very exciting. We’ll get to 40 million homes by the end of the year, that’s a lock, and 50 million is close behind. As we battle all those competitors that have done a really nice job with distribution, this is our time right now. Our journey is just getting started.”

Eighteen affiliate partners have signed on to be part of the free preview, including Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, Insight, Mediacom, Suddenlink, and RCN.

During the course of the tournament, CBS College will provide more than 80 hours of coverage to complement CBS Sports’ live game broadcasts. CBS College is the home of the official highlights show, NCAA March Madness Highlights, which will air following the conclusion of each day’s games. During the course of the three-week tournament, NCAA March Madness Central will provide in-progress game highlights, live look-ins, and press conferences at every site from the first round through the championship.

For the fourth consecutive year, CBS College will also air two out-of-market games from the tournament’s first round. The games will be fully produced by CBS Sports, using CBS announcers and graphics, and will air on CBS stations in assigned regions and on CBS College in all other markets.

“We have almost 100 hours of programming associated with the tournament this year,” Herbst points out. “It’s mostly studio programming. We will take the show on the road to Indianapolis for the Final Four, where we’ll cover all the team practices live and do pre-game shows and post-game shows as well.”

He is particularly excited about the NCAA Final Four Salute show, hosted by CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz on the Thursday before Final Four weekend. “That’s a fun show, where all four coaches and assorted players from the Final Four teams show up at one location and just talk about the tournament. Jim Nantz hosts that show for us and does a great job.”

In addition to sharing talent, CBS College and CBS Sports will be sharing facilities and resources throughout the tournament, especially in Indianapolis at the Final Four.

“We will share that set and desk area inside Lucas Oil stadium, as well as facilities, resources, and talent,” Herbst says. “The seamless back-and-forth working with these guys has been great. We did it last year in Detroit, and we’ll do it again in Indy.”

Having coordinated two networks working from one site in 2009, he finds the second time around easier both logistically and operationally. “What I’ve been struck by, is how many folks across all of CBS are working together on this one event. Between interactive, programming, sales, talent — they’ve all been amazing at helping to promote us and get the word out about CBS College.”