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Scott D. Pierce: Final Four semis on cable? Oh, the horror!

Published April 1, 2014 11:07 am

Sports on TV • It was inevitable — and no big deal — that these games moved from CBS.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The semifinals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament are about to go where they've never gone before — to cable.

Saturday's semifinals will air on TBS (with simultaneous "fancasts" on TNT and truTV). Monday's championship game will air on CBS, as usual.

There will be fans who sit down on Saturday afternoon to watch Connecticut-Florida and Kentucky-Wisconsin and get ticked off when they can't find the game. TV viewers are creatures of habit, and the Final Four has been on CBS for 32 years.

No, it doesn't seem all that revolutionary that big sports events are moving to cable. That's been happening for decades. The only major sporting event that plays out entirely on broadcast TV these days is the NFL playoffs/Super Bowl, because, well, the NFL is on a different plane than anything else.

And, after four years of Turner and CBS sharing the NCAAs, you would think that moving a couple of games to TBS would be no big deal. Because, honestly, it's not.

But if you were paying any attention to Twitter this past Saturday, you would have thought something revolutionary was happening. There were Twitter screams of anger and outrage that the first two regional finals were on TBS.

Granted, Twitter is where people go to express their anger and outrage. But this wasn't coming just from the demographic that collects Social Security and doesn't have a cable or satellite hookup.

At least part of the generation that tweets hasn't been paying attention. This has been coming since CBS Sports partnered with Turner Sports to stave off a challenge that could have cost it the entire tournament.

"We were facing some incredibly stiff competition from ESPN," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. "We quickly came to the realization that the old way of doing it, where we would split the country into eight different regions and show four different games simultaneously, just wasn't going to cut it with the respect to the way media had changed.

"So we needed a partner. We were not going to — either financially or from a programming standpoint — be able to compete with ESPN without a partner who had the platforms and the distribution that we needed."

The truth is that the NCAAs are a great TV sports event that got better when CBS and Turner teamed up. It's hard to believe that, just four years ago, we were at the mercy of CBS programmers who decided which games we would see.

Now, every game airs in its entirety on CBS (KUTV-Ch. 2 locally), TBS, TNT or truTV. We can decide which game we want to see. We can flip from game to game.

There's little complaining about cable games in the earlier rounds; the whining about it now has more to do with overly entitled fans than anything else.

The CBS-TBS partnership has worked great for the programmers, the advertisers and the viewers. And it was always intended as a partnership of equals.

"And this is part of the process of making sure that we are part of Final Four weekend," said Turner Broadcasting president David Levy.

It's going to be getting more equal. Next year will look like this year; in 2016, the semifinals and finals will air on TBS, beginning an even-years/odd-years alternation with CBS.

We'll see how many tweets of anguish there are in 2016.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.






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