Live From Final Four: CBS, Turner Relationship Continues To Tighten in Indy

Consider them sports TV’s Brady Bunch: in the years since CBS Sports and Turner Sports began their current agreement to work together on production and distribution of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, two families have become one.

At this year’s Final Four in Indianapolis, the broadcasting giants have never been closer. Shared production resources, shared facilities, shared sets, and shared programming are just a few of the highlights from a massive technical and operations undertaking going on this weekend in Indianapolis.

More from the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four:

CBS Sports' Patty Power (left) and Turner Sports' Tom Sahara are heading up this weekend's massive production of the NCAA Final Four.

CBS Sports’ Patty Power (left) and Turner Sports’ Tom Sahara are heading this weekend’s massive production of the NCAA Final Four.

“This partnership just continues to grow, and, each year, it just gets better and better,” says Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “These shows continue to grow, and the level of integration gets deeper and deeper. This is all one family. I think a lot of people don’t realize just how tightly everything is integrated. It really is just one show, but, when you look at the totality of all those pieces, it’s really amazing.”

It’s a large crew and gear arsenal deployed here at Lucas Oil Stadium and the surrounding areas, with more than 350 production personnel, close to 40 cameras, 12 production trucks, two sets, and more.

Specialty cameras include a custom-built, robotic “Rail Cam,” which is owned by All Mobile Video; Skycam; a massive jib; and three of the increasingly popular Grass Valley 6X cameras, which both networks are familiar with (CBS has deployed them during NFL coverage, Turner on NBA games).

There are two host sets inside the stadium: the main set erected at floor level in the student sections on the east side of the stadium, the second one in the mezzanine-level concourse, which is right inside one of the main entrances to the stadium. A CBS Sports Network set is a few blocks away on Georgia Street, just outside the FanFest at the Indiana Convention Center, which also houses a set being used across all CBS and Turner networks.

CBS and Turner have deployed almost 40 cameras throughout Lucas Oil Stadium.

CBS and Turner have deployed nearly 40 cameras throughout Lucas Oil Stadium.

“The complexity of this show and how it grows every year is amazing,” says Patty Power, SVP, operations and administration, CBS Sports. “The multiple resources; the amount of stages that we have around Indianapolis between Turner, CBS Sports Network, and CBS; tying it all together. And it leads back [to Lucas Oil Stadium].”

There are two truck compounds inside Lucas Oil Stadium — housing units from F&F Productions, NEP Broadcasting, and Bexel — to handle the main game production and the two team-specific TeamStream shows that will air on TNT, TBS, and/or truTV parallel to the main game. The main game truck is F&F’s GTX-17, the company’s newest, which debuted in August with CBS at the US Open tennis tournament.

A tangible sign of CBS and Turner’s increased unity is the introduction of an F&F unit that served as a D unit for CBS Sports when it partnered with NFL Network on last season’s Thursday Night Football package. Previously, the combined forces of Turner and CBS didn’t have one place where they could collaboratively monitor all incoming and outbound feeds. The unit is a huge upgrade, according to Sahara, who recalls sitting in the transmission truck last year monitoring feeds on a screen he had propped up on a case.

One of two studio sets in the stadium is located floor level and features a large TechnoJib.

One of two studio sets in the stadium is located at floor level and features a large TechnoJib.

“This was a real plus for us during Thursday Night Football,” he says, “so I was talking with [CBS Sports EVP, Operations and Production Services] Ken [Aagaard], I said we need to get this for Final Four.”

Three full linear productions will take place during the three games on Final Four weekend. It was a concept introduced last year as the “TeamCast” and rebranded this year as Bleacher Report’s TeamStream application. The traditional and neutral main game broadcasts take place on TBS (on Saturday night) and CBS  Monday night).

All three productions will be fishing from the same pool of shared camera sources, but a few added cameras have been dedicated to covering certain angles, such as iso shots of players, coaches, and benches: shots useful to all three shows but particularly helpful to those focusing exclusively on, say, Kentucky or Michigan State.

“Although a lot of the resources are the same, when you look at the show, they will each be totally different from the other,” says Sahara. “It’s unique in that they really do concentrate on each individual team. It’s pretty amazing that they are all coming from the same place.”

Inside the main game truck, F&F Productions' GTX-17, where producer Mark Wolf and director Bob Fishman will call the shots.

Inside the main game truck, F&F Productions’ GTX-17, where producer Mark Wolf and director Bob Fishman will call the shots.

Last year’s TeamCasts were popular, but the networks dealt with some viewer confusion. Twitter storms led to viewers’ — unaware that they were watching a TeamCast — questioning why the broadcast was so one-sided. Better prepared this year, CBS and Turner have made a significantly stronger marketing push leading up to this weekend and have added graphic elements that will make the purpose of each production clear and will direct viewers to where they can watch an alternative version of the game.

On the production and operations end, there also were lessons learned from the first year of the TeamCast/TeamStream productions, chief of which was to have those folks working the TeamStream shows be more involved in the core planning.

“The integration is so complex that we can’t just add them in later,” says Sahara. “They need to be considered in the overall plans. It was helpful to get the commitment early that we would continue to do the TeamStream coverage, and we were very fortunate to be able to integrate from the beginning.”

The main game production of the Final Four and the National Championship Game will be produced by Mark Wolf and directed by Bob Fishman. The TeamStream telecasts feature the producer/director teams of Tom Hietz/Renardo Lowe and Scott Cockrell/Lonnie Dale.

For more of SVG’s coverage from Final Four weekend, visit www.sportsvideo.org and follow on Twitter @sportsvideo, @svgcollege, and @svgbrandon.