Monday, March 21st, 2011

Cynopsis | Sports

March 2011

Good morning. It’s Monday, March 21, 2011, and this is your weekly Sports article and editorial from Cyn opsis.  If you’d like to comment on this story, there is a space for that below the article.  Look for more of these in the future!


March Madness — A tru Blue Brandbuilder for Turner

By Chris Pursell

As the second most lucrative event in sports television each year, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament remains one of the crown jewels for network executives. Brackets, pools, unpredictability and teams representing all regions of the country have provided watercooler conversation through the modern era of TV.

So when Turner Networks signed a $10.8 billion, 14-year contract to join longtime March Madness host CBS and bring games to TNT, TBS and truTV, executives were determined to capitalize on an opportunity that only sports can bring to the table. From promos to iPhone apps to the addition of Charles Barkley, an NBA analyst for TNT, to the gameday crew, Turner’s influence was immediately evident to audiences.

“Sports brings its core audience as well as casual fans and when you have an occasion to work with something like the tournament, with a massive built-in fanbase, it’s a rare opportunity to play up your brand on multiple fronts,” said Lenny Daniels, Executive VP and COO of Turner Sports. “Whenever we look to integrate our brand into this type of programming, obviously the consumer has to come first. You have to look at what the audience wants, and then figure out a way to seamlessly fit your brand into that environment. Charles is a great example of that, as audiences already respond to him and yet he adds his own perspective to the games.”

Audiences responded to the new format of March Madness, with every match being broadcast in its entirety on one of the four channels throughout the opening rounds before heading to CBS for the final games. In fact, CBS Sports’ and Turner Sports’ coverage of the Thursday games generated the highest rating for the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament in the metered markets since 1991. Ratings for the four telecasts combined to deliver an overnight household score of 5.7/13, for a spike of 24% from CBS Sports’ 2010 coverage, according to Nielsen.

Perhaps the biggest winner of the foursome was truTV, which was initially mocked by writers around the country wondering if their TV package even carried the network, in spite of record ratings last February. The channel was home to the “First Four” play-in games on Tuesday and Wednesday before joining the other networks for the regular tournament action later in the week. The result saw truTV score a total audience of 2.6 million viewers for its Tuesday games, and, according to a Google search, more press mentions in a week’s time than the network earned for all of 2010.

That’s good news for Turner, which is looking at the NCAA games as a way to boost the profile of the network, especially with negotiations coming up with affiliates.

“The initial reason we decided to do this on truTV was exposure so we could try to get more people to understand what truTV is and for viewers to consider sampling their shows,” said Daniels. “We know from research that most people have their top seven to ten channels that they watch regularly and then anything else they view is generally because they wandered through and decided to sample something. We want to get truTV in the consideration set. Obviously, we hope the NCAA Tournament can help make that happen.”

On the digital front, Turner also took over duties for the tournament and made the event available for the first time as a free live stream on Apple’s iPhone, iPod and iPad touch devices as part of Turner Sports Interactive’s NCAA March Madness on Demand vehicle. The move provided another outlet to help branding for both broadcasters and sponsors, and delivered a 22-percent increase in total visits across online and mobile apps on Thursday with 3.3 million hours of live streaming consumed across broadband and mobile apps.

“When you look at MMOD and what we’ve done with it, we’ve expanded it to become an all-encompassing 23-day experience so throughout the tournament you can watch the games, look at your bracket, look at your social, you can follow along and chat,” said Daniels. “They all push and pull in a holistic way to and from the brands of the networks, as well as the brand of the tournament.”

Clearly, other networks are taking notice. In a recent interview with Sports Business Journal, Fox executives noted that they believed live sports provided the catalyst of why TNT scored better distribution numbers, higher subscriber fees and more viewers than a similar entertainment channel such as FX.

“We are not, nor will we ever be a 24-hour sports network,” said Daniels. “That said, a Tivo-proof event like the tournament is good for everybody. It’s good for Turner, our other shows, distributors, advertisers and audiences. Whether you look at it from a strategic or from a monetary perspective, sports builds brands.”

In My Opinion …

The tournament is always controversial, but one of the biggest debates arising from this year’s field from TV pundits was the inclusion of mid-major teams such as VCU and UAB over teams from the “Big 6” conferences of the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, the ACC, the Pac-10 and the SEC. From a media perspective, some observers instantly questioned whether or not ESPN and CBS were playing favorites to teams they owned broadcast rights to in lieu of balanced reporting. Of course, with distinguished resumes, these pundits would immediately destroy their careers if that was actually the case. But the big money deals the networks are signing have provided their critics with ammunition.

With new blood involved in broadcasts of the NCAA Tournament in Turner, and new bidders such as Fox Sports and NBC Universal Sports gearing up for rights to NCAA football and basketball conference games, the playing field and broadcast possibilities are widening for college athletics. Whether this opens the door for more viewpoints from more sportscasters and silences critics remains to be seen.  — Chris Pursell, Editor

Whether you agree or disagree with Chris’ article and/or his In My Opinion, we welcome your posting your comments below.

Later — Chris
Chris Pursell for Cyn opsis| Sports
March 21, 2011

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