Pacts with network to split $10.8 bil deal

Turner is getting into the March Madness business, pacting with longtime rights holder CBS to split a new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA.

Under terms of the pact, CBS and Turner’s TNT, TBS and TruTV outlets will share rights to the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship starting next year and through 2024.

Eye’s previous $6.2 billion deal with the NCAA ran through 2013. But a clause in that pact gave the NCAA the opportunity to shop for a new deal. ESPN was interested, but ultimately the Eye –which would have seen its costs skyrocket over the next three years under the existing deal — was able to strike a partnership with Turner.

CBS/Turner deal had been in the works since last fall. The two sides have already collaborated in the past on the Olympics (in 1992 and 1994) and PGA coverage. Turner also splits sports rights with other broadcasters — such as Major League Baseball playoffs, which it shares with Fox.

Eye and Turner also recently kicked around the idea of mounting a joint Olympics bid for the 2014 and 2016 Games.

CBS Sports and News topper Sean McManus stressed that the new arrangement with Turner would keep the NCAA tourney economically viable for the Eye.

“In this agreement, we have created a new strategic partnership that not only makes this prestigious property an ongoing core asset in our stable of major television events, but a profitable one as well,” he said.

He later added: “The economics of this deal works out for both parties, or we wouldn’t have done this.”

It also means all March Madness games will be available on four national TV outlets — a first for the tourney.

Deal also comes as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase the tournament field size from 65 to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 Championship — ending speculation that the field would leap to 96 teams.

The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors will review the proposal at its April 29 meeting.

New deal means opening- , first- and second-round games will be shown nationally on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV, the NCAA said. CBS and Turner will split coverage of the regional semi-final games; CBS will cover the regional finals, as well as the Final Four — including the National Championship Game — through 2015.

Beginning in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner, and the Final Four and the National Championship game will alternating every year between CBS and TBS. McManus and Levy defended the decision to allow the championship on cable — noting that Turner is available in 90% of TV homes — and that the arrangement was important for Turner, and therefore “necessary to get the deal done.”

CBS Sports has broadcast the NCAA basketball tournament since 1982. This year’s broadcast of the championship game earned its highest rating in five years.

The NCAA said its “March Madness on Demand” streaming video player will continue on both NCAA.com and CBSSports.com, and will now also appear on Time Warner digital properties.

“The player will be operated and developed by Turner and have enhanced digital rights allowing the NCAA to deliver content for multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms,” the NCAA said.

NCAA interim prexy Jim Isch said the new deal would provide member schools and conferences around $740 million annually.

David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting, called the deal “landmark” for the cabler.

Move is just the latest feather in the cap for Turner, which just sealed a deal with another broadcast mainstay, talk show host Conan O’Brien, last week.

“We are well-positioned to monetize our investment in NCAA programming across three nationally distributed networks,” Levy said. ” With the combined linear and digital assets of these two large media companies we’ll be able to maximize the exposure of the Tournament, as well as provide incomparable access for viewers.”

One unified sales team will handle the coverage, and will sell time based on a cume basis.

“There will be more GRPs (gross ratings points), as every game will be televised nationally,” Levy said.

The parties involved declined to speculate on the fate of DirecTV’s “Mega March Madness” package in light of the new deal. Meanwhile, McManus said CBS’ College Sports network would no longer be given a game to telecast as it had in the past.

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