Want to play basketball? You probably ought to start shooting hoops, running drills, playing pickup ball. Want to watch basketball? You might face a similar learning curve this year.
Veteran watchers of the vaunted NCAA men's basketball championships face having to craft an entirely new viewing methodology this go-round. Where the games were once broadcast solely on CBS, they will now be spread out across that broadcast network as well as Turner's TBS, TNT and even reality-channel TruTV. Keep in mind that the tournament's first four games will only be shown on Tru, and that every game will be able to be viewed nationally, rather than sampled regionally and sporadically as during a CBS-only broadcast. The old rulebook is out the window.
To school couch potatoes in the art of watching NCAA games circa 2011, CBS and Turner are launching a pretty ambitious effort. Keeping viewership steady or on the rise is crucial to both CBS and Turner-parent Time Warner, which are shelling out more than $10 billion over 14 years to keep the TV- and digital-broadcast rights to the popular basketball contest. Marketing the games is also part of the deal between the media networks and the NCAA.
As a result, you can expect more than hype. Indeed, the two companies say their marketing campaign is "is designed to promote awareness, educate and inform viewers" about the new opportunities to watch games. CBS and Time Warner will be blasting promos for the tournament at the movies (with an alliance with Kings of Leon), online, on local cable, digital billboards, digital elevator ads, local radio and in print. You can also expect to see TV promos featuring CBS and Turner talent hawking the games throughout March, as well as messages crafted for broadcast on 200 different CBS affiliates.
As if that all wasn't enough, the Kings of Leon will also be part of a concert taking place during "Final Four" weekend in Houston. Coca-Cola will sponsor.
Advertisers will likely scrutinize the NCAA tournament for the new viewing habits and patterns it sparks in current fans; aficionados will have to click up and down the set-top box to follow much of the action. CBS and Turner are clearly not leaving much to chance: Before you start analyzing traffic flow under the circus tent, you have to fill it up. This year, the networks not only have to gather a crowd, but educate them in new viewing opportunities at the same time -- a headier-than-usual task.
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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.