CBS, Turner Aim To Improve on Impressive Debut at Men’s Basketball Tourney

Ask any successful musician: the hardest thing about scoring a chart-topping debut is following it up with a second. It is a challenge that CBS and Turner Sports are happy to take on this year at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, following the nearly flawless debut of their combined coverage last year.

“Things went very well last year, and that is a good thing. But the bad thing is, we have now set the expectations very high,” says Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “So we have the pressure of matching the success of last year, and the devils are in the details.”

Communication Still Key
After sharing rights to March Madness basketball last year for the first time since 1991, CBS will look to continue to build on that shared production model with small tweaks and an even greater focus on communication.

“The hardest thing for us to do this year is to equal last and even better it,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, engineering, operations, and production services, CBS Sports. “So we have to take what we did, know that we did it the right way, and then just move it forward. I think we made the experience work for the fan across the board last year, and I can tell you we are going to do that this year — except even a little bit better.”

The biggest advantage over last year is that Turner and CBS are now familiar with each other’s terminology and staff members’ responsibilities.

“You can never have too much communication,” says Sahara. “We talk everything through to the most minutest detail. Everything is understood, and nothing is assumed.”

Ready for Opening Night
The tournament’s first round will be held in Dayton, OH, tonight, and a combined Turner Sports/CBS production crew will be on hand, operating out of the Turner Sports 1 production unit. The arena at the University of Dayton is an older one and provides unique challenges, including camera positions that are a bit higher than most.

“We started moving in on Sunday,” notes Sahara, “and there aren’t any cables already installed, and there really isn’t much space.

Turner Sports 1 is one of two production units owned by the company, but the opening round will be the only March Madness appearance by either because both are committed to NBA and MLB coverage.

“After the first round, we will have to pull Turner 1 out of the venue and get it back to Atlanta so it can get ready for baseball,” Sahara adds. “Fortunately, we have many of the same vendors CBS Sports does, so we are comfortable with them.”

An Early-Round Model To Match the Regionals
Expect an upgrade across all second- and third-round coverage this year, with each game featuring a 12-camera complement, including a newly added super-slo-mo camera and extra low-slash position camera at each venue.

“We’ll be able to capture more of the drama of the game with the super-slo-mo and more hero slots using the slash camera,” says Sahara.

In addition to the handheld mid-court super-slo-mo and extra low-slash position, CBS and Turner will deploy three hard cams (high mid, iso shot, high slash), two handhelds (one under each basket), a Robovision robotic camera above each basket, and a beauty shot, as well as game- and play-clock cameras (in case the clock interface fails at any of the venues).

In terms of mobile-production trucks for these early rounds, CBS and Turner will roll out NEP SS1 in Albuquerque; F&F GTX 15 in Louisville, KY; NCP 8 in Pittsburgh; NEP SS-11 in Portland, OR; Corplex Iridium in Columbus, OH; F&F GTX 16 in Greensboro, NC; NEP SS-24 in Nashville; and Corplex Platinum in Omaha.

All Regionals Jump Into ActionCam
As for regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8), all four venues will feature an ActionCam aerial camera system, which was featured only at selected sites last year.

In addition, Turner’s team will use the Liberovision 360 replay system at one regional site (which it deployed during the NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando two weeks ago), and CBS will use the Red Bee Media Pierro system at one site for its own 360 replays.

Aside from these systems, all four regional venues will use largely the same production model in an effort to maintain consistency across the CBS and Turner networks.

“In order to avoid confusion, no matter [which network] is coordinating a particular site, I lay out the trucks and equipment for every site,” says John McRae, director of field operations for CBS Sports. “That makes it a lot easier for everyone. If there is an issue that affects things globally, then I just take care of it for everyone, rather than having someone double my work on [Turner’s] side.”

McRae will deploy NCP VIII in Boston, NEP SS10 in Phoenix, F&F GTX 16 in Atlanta, and Corplex Platinum in St. Louis. When the Final Four arrives in New Orleans the following week, F&F GTX 15 will be used for the on-site studio show and F&F GTX 16 will serve as the primary game truck.

CALM Down About the Audio
One detail that has been sorted out is audio, specifically loudness levels. The CALM (Commercial Audio Loudness Measurement) Act is now in place, so both Turner and CBS Sports, as well as their distributors, have guidelines to follow for consistent audio levels during commercial breaks.

“With everyone compliant, any hitches no longer have to be there as the technical side has been working to make [CALM Act compliance] as smooth as possible.”