As March Madness Approaches, Turner and CBS See 'Brackets Everywhere'

NCAA Tourney Gives Turner Something Netflix Doesn't Have

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CBS and Turner Broadcasting are introducing a big campaign to promote the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, spanning TV, online, digital out-of -home billboards, print and radio.

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The NCAA tournament presents an opportunity for Turner, whose ratings have been slipping, to invest in exclusivity, said Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible.

About 66% of Turner's content is syndicated, placing the network in more direct competition with streaming service providers such as Hulu and Netflix -- whose TV offerings are heavy on past seasons -- than the big broadcast channels, Mr. Wible said.

"Sports are an expensive but effective way to quickly improve ratings ," Mr. Wible said. "As Turner starts renewing affiliates the NCAA helps it become a must-have channel, and that 's where this investment will pay off."

Turner and CBS acquired the rights to the championship for 14 years beginning in 2011, allowing all NCAA games to air live in their entirety on CBS and Turner's TNT, TBS and TruTV.

The 2011 event averaged 10.2 million viewers, up 7% from 2010 on CBS alone, making it the most-watched NCAA tournament since 2005. Viewers' median age also dropped three years, to 46, Turner said.

The marketing blitz will start this week with "Brackets Everywhere" commercials, featuring celebrities such as Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Conan O' Brien. The creative campaign, which came out of Turner in conjunction with CBS, is centered on a fashion designer who decides the bracket design is the next big trend, ensuing a nationwide bracket craze. The spots will run on TBS, CBS, TNT and TruTV, as well as CNN, HLN, Airport Network, CBS Outernet Partners and across Turner Digital, which includes SI.com and NCAA.com

"Brackets Everywhere" is also extending into the key markets of New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Turner and CBS will put up brackets there that will stand as large as 50 feet by 32 feet, to be updated with teams after Selection Sunday. The brackets will roll out at CNN Center in Atlanta on March 6, Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles on March 7, and Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal in New York on March 12.

The Black Keys will serve as the musical backdrop for the tournament, which will use the band's song "Gold on the Ceiling" in TV ads and around game coverage.

There will also be significant branding presence throughout New Orleans, the site of the 2012 NCAA Men's Final Four and National Championship.

The NCAA has also served as a way for Turner to drive new viewers to TruTV, which has become the company's fastest-growing network.

But Turner needs more than the NCAA, according to Mr. Wible. "They need to make as much original investments as they can," he said. "I am worried about sports in the longer term, as players demand more money, lockouts ensue and ultimately it ends up impacting the viewers' cable bill."

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