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The March Madness TV package shared by CBS and Turner Sports may resemble a joint custody of sorts from the outside.

The executives at both networks told USA TODAY the partnership would be better described as a happy, fruitful marriage — at least for now.

The men's championship game is on TBS Monday as the networks alternate the Final Four between even and odd years. The agreement began in 2011 and was extended through 2032 at a shared cost of $19.6 billion in rights fees.

"Through the first two years, we were trying to figure out what marries up well together," Turner President David Levy said.

"There were arguments here and there internally. We are two different companies with two different cultures. Sean always gave a lot of credit to our side. He always thought about the fan first and what would be best for the consumers because that would be good for CBS and Turner."

Sean would be CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus.

"It's really unique," McManus said. "It's a mega production of two teams coming together."

This is the second Final Four on TBS, blending talent from both networks. Behind the scenes, CBS and Turner also share production and sales staffs.

The title game, like the semifinals, is being called by CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson and and Grant Hill of Turner. The studio show talent is split between Turner (Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith) and CBS (Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg),.

McManus said there was only one "prerequisite" when it came to Turner Sports talent that covers the NBA on TNT calling March Madness games.

"They have to love and follow the college basketball season very closely," he said. "They're all basketball fans and know the game. Some of the (CBS) talent like Clark Kellogg and Bill Raftery call college basketball the entire season. (Tuner Sports NBA analysts) Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley all acclimated well into the college game. They are really good broadcasters. Everyone takes (college basketball) seriously."

"When this all started out in 2011, it was clear that this would be a 50-50 partnership or no deal of this magnitude would have been done," Levy said.

"There were some challenges we had to go through as part of the negotiating process, but, again, I have to give Sean credit. The first day of the tournament (in 2011) where we were broadcasting 16 games and had four games going on simultaneously, was brand new. After the first 30 minutes, there was a close game on TBS and there was a reaction (inside the control center) that CBS should switch to that game."

That's the way it had been done at CBS from 1982 through 2010, but there's no switching or live "look-ins" now. Each game is broadcast in its entirety, split among CBS and Turner outlets TBS, TNT and truTV.

"Somebody said, 'You're right. This is a different package. We are partners,'" Levy said.

McManus said divvying up the games over the first two weekends of March Madness typically takes about 90 minutes and is "very efficient."

"I wouldn't say it's old hat, but we have a system in place and it really runs like clockwork for the first two rounds of the tournament," McManus said.

The partnership has paid dividends in other ways, too.

In the seven previous NCAA tournaments, the CBS/Turner partnership has seen viewership rise 10% compared with the prior seven-year period when CBS held the rights exclusively.

Going into the weekend, this year's tournament has had an average audience of 10.7 million viewers with all platforms (including streaming on March Madness Live) factored in, a 5% increase compared with of the same span last year.

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April 2, 2018


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