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Tournament on Nickelodeon?

March 15, 2003 Columns No Comments

Regional Action In Boston, Nashville and…Baghdad?

by Adam Shandler

This Thursday on Nickelodeon: SpongeBob Knight.

War. (Hunnh!)

Good god, y’all. What is it good for?

Well, if you’re CBS it’s good for a share of network coverage of the impending conflict with Iraq and more face time for Dan Rather. Not to mention a hands-down, no-brainer decision to bounce NCAA tournament coverage from the EYE to its Viacom partners. In fact, by request of the FCC, all networks and their affiliates are beholden to “air that which is in the public interest”, so even though the network has a choice in the matter, it’s like Coach K asking you to attend a voluntary practice.

That tiny detail aside, how can any warm blooded, patriotic American — basketball fan or no — possibly disagree with CBS’s decision to forfeit Big Dance coverage in the event of war? And we’ve heard this all before; that sports is but a small crumb in the baguette of world events. (Oh, but what a tasty morsel it is!) It’s not the big picture, it’s entertainment, even though some of our inner hoops experts burst out of hibernation the moment that office pool email goes around and the photocopied brackets are distributed on Monday morning.

We’re already way past deadline for the UN Security Council’s decision on a resolution, but if a strike on Iraq is ordered, we’ll find out just how far down college hoops will be pushed on the TV food chain.

Like all the way down to Channel 38. Or 45. Or 72.

That’s right, it’s not like they’re going to cancel the NCAA tourney just because rockets are slamming into Baghdad fortresses. I mean, sheesh, let’s not overreact here. According to a recent ESPN article, you’ll still be able to catch all the good-time hoopery on other Viacom-owned networks, like Nickelodeon, sometime after SpongeBob Squarepants but not before Rugrats. (You may want to put the kids down early those nights.) Or how ’bout TNN? They’ve promised not to pre-empt any A-Team reruns. (And I pity the fool who do that.)

College hoops fans are going with the flow of CBS’s contingency plans but checking with their cable subscribers to make sure they won’t miss a game. Jeff Buchbinder, a stock analyst from New York City, for instance, has it all under control.

“I don’t think this will affect me at all since I have Nickelodeon and TNN as part of Time Warner’s package in Manhattan. As long as the coverage is the same, the channel is irrelevant to me,” Buchbinder says. “One potential problem [would be if] they keep bouncing around from one channel to the other, though I would be surprised if they do that.”

Right. If anything, you may be stuck with the quandary of which game to watch, as the involvement of multiple Viacom networks could very well mean more games. More channels, more choices. Something that college hoops fans like Barry Lewin of Rumson, NJ, are all for.

“The coverage will still be CBS’s and I can still watch the games. In some ways, this is better because before I could only watch the early round game CBS wanted to show in [the] New York City [area]. Now I can choose from up to three concurrent games.”

While most cable stations do carry Nickelodeon (and if they don’t, they’re probably still using rabbit ears for your hookup), stations like TNN and TV Land are more obscure, which could cause some uproar…or a lot of hoops-hungry fans trying to descramble signals like they did with the porn channel back in high school.

“If people are desperate to see the games and don’t have the channels, they’ll do what Yankee fans did when YES (the Yankees network) and Cablevision were feuding,” believes Lewin, referring to fans signing up for satellite packages in lieu of Cablevision service. (Incidentally, a deal between the two factions was reached late this week.)

If and when a war is declared, some fans may be left scrounging for ways to see NCAA tourney games, and while we feel for them (boo-hoo…okay, I’m over it), the biggest loser may be the CBS network, which does not plan to air any commercials, or will air very few, during the first few days of war coverage. That’s a loss of $32 million a day in ad revenue for tournament coverage, over the course of 2 1/2 weeks. Not the best way to start an 11-year, $6 billion deal in which CBS has the exclusive TV, radio, Internet, home video and marketing rights to this event.

While the look and feel of the broadcasts, with its fanfared introduction, graphics and commentators will be positively “CBS”, March just isn’t March without the Madness actually being aired on CBS. I want to come home (okay, I work from home) and without thinking, turn the remote to Channel 2. Channel 2, and not some random network buried deep within the bottomless pit of my cable system.

I was pro-war until this story broke. Now as a college basketball fan, I just may grab my picket sign, slide into my Birkenstocks and go a-protestin’ along First Avenue.

And I’m bringin’ SpongeBob with me.


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