After the first full day of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, a day that included five games decided by two points or less (which tied a record for the most for a single day in tournament history), the emerging Cinderellas were not the biggest winners.
Thanks to TV partners CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV, viewers were the real winners.
With the CBS monopoly of games gone as part of a 14-year deal worth $10.8 billion that began with this year's tournament, games were spread over each of the four outlets. As a result, viewers -- remote controls in hand -- were in charge of switching from game to game to catch exciting finishes or following a game to its completion without being moved away to another game.
Jumping from game to game to catch close finishes was an approach ESPN first practiced years ago for the tournament and CBS utilized well during its years of broadcasting all 63 games of the event.
While some viewers unnecessarily worried about finding truTV on their channel lineup before the tournament started, that was not a problem the first day. Instead, the TV partners made it easy for viewers to embrace the opportunity to "be the producer" and follow games in their entirety or jump from game to game. (And viewers probably have itchier trigger fingers, or thumbs, than the real producers.)
With a standard score/time remaining graphic at the top of TV screens on every outlet, viewers could see the progress of other games and where the game was being televised. Also, when games were interesting or tight, announce teams told viewers about it and the logo for the outlet carrying the game flashed to emphasize that another game might be of interest.
An enlarged studio team was the other notable change for the tournament as Turner Sports NBA analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith found roles in a crowded studio that included three hosts (Greg Gumble, Ernie Johnson, Matt Winer), other analysts (Seth Davis, Steve Smith) and, of course, the requisite coaches (Tom Crean of Indiana and Phil Martelli of St. Joseph's) without a team in the tournament.
This weekend, those experts and talkers will be in two separate locations -- New York and Atlanta. So far, though, they have not been overbearing or overwhelming.
There are a lot of them, but they seem to be picking their spots well, with a good balance of strong criticism without silliness. If they keep that up, and the game action plays out as usual in the NCAA Tournament, the changes seem to be shaping up as a perfect positive progression for March Madness.
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