CBS, Turner Sports Tackle the Logistical Madness of NCAA Tournament

This NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament marks the fourth year of the relationship between Turner Sports and CBS, and — ask anyone involved — it’s still in the honeymoon phase.

With the Field of 64 tipping off today, eight remote-production crews and two command centers and studio sets (one at CBS in New York City, the other at Turner Studios in Atlanta] are ready to take on the madness of March, bringing full games to four networks nationally.

It’s a logistical and technical challenge rivaled by few other sports events, and it works, thanks to a collaborative effort between the two broadcasters.

NCAA_March_Madness_logo“We hit it off right in the beginning, both groups,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/VP, production, at CBS Sports. “We had similar philosophies, and it’s gotten better each year. We’re at a level that we’ve got a great baseline, and, every year, we relook at that base — whether it’s the number of cameras, tape machines, specialty equipment — and we see what works, what doesn’t work, and what we can improve. We’re at a very good point now, and it’s really only about how we can improve the production from the front of the truck to the back of the truck.”

Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, at Turner Sports, concurs: “It really is a partnership where everything gets thrown out onto the table and we go through and evaluate and prioritize almost daily. It has flowed really smoothly. At the end of the day, it’s about bringing the best experience to the viewer, and both networks have that mindset. With that common goal, it really has worked very well.”

With a deeper pool of crews and technological resources, CBS Sports takes on the majority of the load during this first week of the tournament. Six of the eight crews through the second and third rounds are CBS production folks. Across the board, both CBS and Turner are using a collection of mobile-production units from NEP Broadcasting, F&F Productions, and Corplex.

“Out on the remote side, that’s what we do,” says Bryant. “We’ve got a pretty deep pool of producers, directors, and technical crews here. We do eight NFL games a weekend. So we’re used to that.”

Turner is also using its own 1080p-capable production trucks, TS-1 and TS-2.

Logistical challenges range from the deployment of crews to the surveying of early-round sites, some of which — for example, Spokane, WA, or Dayton, OH, site of the First Four — are venues that are not typically accustomed to a large national broadcaster coming in for a championship-caliber event.

CBS and Turner isolate the gear and technology needs by week. This week’s second- and third-round matchups receive a relatively standard complement of about 10 cameras with a modest arsenal of super-slo-mos.

“The first week, we’re just managing a tremendous volume of content, and it’s very long days,” says Sahara. “So it’s about having solid coverage. It’s not about having the bells and whistles; it’s about providing good coverage and not missing anything. It’s difficult to have a lot of highly specialized equipment spread across eight venues because the expertise to maximize the usage of that is nearly impossible. We don’t have eight teams that have that kind of knowledge.”

As the tournament moves forward, each round gets more enhancements as the crew totals shrink from eight to four to one. More camera totals, high–frame-rate cameras, and even the freeD 360-degree replay system are added in later rounds.

“[During the first week,] we don’t want any site to have 15 cameras while another has seven,” says Bryant. “It’s unlike an NFL Sunday, where you have an A game and you ramp that up. In the tournament, we approach it that every game is an A game.”

Second-round coverage begins Thursday and Friday (noon-midnight both days) with all games available live in their entirety across four national television networks: TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTV. Additionally, truTV will televise a one-hour pregame show Thursday and Friday at 11 a.m.