NCAA Final Four Going to Cable in 2014 and 2015 (Sorry, Aereo)

Long-Term Deal Helps CBS Bear High Cost of Top-Tier Sports

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The Final Four semifinals of the men's college basketball tournament will run on TBS instead of CBS in 2014 and 2015, the networks said today.

CBS will continue to show the NCAA March Madness championship game in 2014 and 2015, according to a joint statement from the networks. They will take turns carrying the Final Four plus the final starting in 2016.

The basic plan was first spelled out in 2010, when CBS and TBS signed a 14-year agreement to share "March Madness" games and said the Final Four and championship game would alternate networks starting in 2016. Today's announcement accelerates the Final Four's arrival on cable.

Changes in the competitive landscape for traditional TV have also made the plan all the more interesting since it was first conceived. CBS and other broadcast networks are engaged in a legal battle to shut down Aereo, a service introduced last year that plucks broadcast signals from the air and streams them to subscribers over the internet -- without the networks' consent. If Aereo survives in court, broadcasters fear that cable and satellite companies will build similar systems and stop paying retransmission fees.

But part of Aereo's appeal is that it lets viewers watch live sports on broadcast TV without relying on a traditional, costly cable subscription or an antenna of their own. Moving top-tier sports events to cable undermines that piece of the proposition.

Of course, if courts allow Aereo to continue to operate, broadcasters including CBS have threatened to pull their signals from the airwaves entirely and become cable stations themselves -- in which case the Final Four will run on cable every year, whether it's on CBS or TBS.

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