Big Dance moves to cable: TBS to carry NCAA National Championship in 2016

Turner Sports said Tuesday that TBS will begin running the NCAA Final Four men's national semifinal basketball games next year, and that in 2016 TBS will carry the NCAA national championship game, which has aired on CBS since 1982.

CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) and Turner said the new Big Dance schedule was worked out in a rights deal struck with the NCAA in 2010. Under that contract, which runs through 2024, TBS and CBS will alternate production of the championship game every other year, beginning with TBS's coverage of the 2016 championship. CBS will still air the NCAA final, traditionally played on a Monday night, in 2014 and 2015, while TBS will carry the two national semifinal games.

Turner and CBS have shared coverage of early-round games in the NCAA tournament since 2010, with Turner carrying games on TBS, TNT and truTV. The new schedule will also see Turner and CBS split coverage of the regional semifinals, also known as the Elite Eight.

TBS counts more than 100 million cable and satellite TV subscribers and is one of the most widely distributed cable networks. While more popular sports programs,  including NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball games, have migrated to cable in the last 20 years, moving the NCAA Final Four and championship game to cable could cause Turner and CBS to face a backlash from consumer groups and regulators.

CBS, which posted a 62 percent increase in retransmission-consent fees from cable and satellite affiliates in the first quarter, is already seeing some criticism from cable executives, since it won't reduce its fees even though it will air fewer games from the Big Dance on its TV stations. "CBS will charge more for retrans even with less," American Cable Association CEO Matt Polka write in a Twitter post Tuesday afternoon.

CBS CEO Les Moonves said last week that the network is on track to generate $1 billion annually from retransmission-consent fees by 2017 or sooner.

Turner and parent Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) may also lean on cable, satellite and telco distributors to help pay for the basketball games.

Time Warner expects "to see an acceleration in subscription revenue growth in 2014, as Turner will begin to see the benefits from its upcoming affiliate renewal cycle," John Martin, Time Warner's chief financial officer and administrator, told analysts on the company's first-quarter earnings call last week.

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