Birth of the InstaBracket

4 Apr 2013 - Jason Davis is Project Manager, IT Strategy, at Turner Broadcasting.

[When the NCAA wanted a new way to involve viewers in the 2013 Men's Division 1 Tournament, the Turner tech team rose to the occasion, creating quite a bit of pre-March madness, but ultimately resulting in the birth of the InstaBracket. What's an InstaBracket? In the below blog post, Turner's Jason Davis gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how this creative phenomenon came to be.]

Way back in December we were approached by NCAA to help with a nationwide effort to increase the number of eyeballs watching March Madness on TBS, TNT and TruTV (ok, CBS too). They needed a way to build random brackets so any non-hoops nut could have a bracket to cling to during the tourney. Being a huge sports fan and Madness enthusiast, I raised my hand Arnold Horshack style and begged for the project.

The NCAA group wanted something akin to a video game kiosk that would allow people walking up to hit a button, print their bracket and be gone. They also wanted a handy way to get a random bracket on, Facebook and Twitter. I mean, if you can't get a random bracket via Twitter why even do it?!?

Our team initially consisted of Hongwei Yan (inventor of math) and Chris Gonzalez (he of many pens). Hongwei created an algorithm over coffee and Chris made the teams dance on screen. Hongwei also cracked Twitter open and built a bot to automatically tweet a bracket. The POC was born in just a couple of weeks.

Our story doesn't end there. We had to add a cool way to modify your bracket in case your random bracket was too random. Some people just can't stand an underdog taking the whole thing. So we added another algorithm using historical results and another that allowed you to pick your own team.

Ok, now we're getting there.

To bring this random bracket to life we worked with a 3rd party fab shop to build the kiosk. The NCAA wanted a big button and by golly we were going to deliver. Throw in a 24" touch screen and a printer and we have a random bracket printing machine!

While the kiosk was the golden egg in our random bracket basket, it wasn't the only egg. Chris and Hongwei worked to get the same experience on Facebook and on Lauren Langley joined in the fun for more graphic wizardry while Simon Germain jumped on to build all the buttons. Throw in my expertise at imaging Macs (I have no such expertise) and we had a crack team of random bracket builders (imagine awesome A-Team montage).

Fast forward a bit. Random bracket was eventually dubbed InstaBracket. And our InstaBracket kiosk was scheduled for a coming out party on national TV during the truTV Bracket Selection Show. Charles Barkley and EJ would be using our baby to create a bracket.

Selection Sunday arrives and we're crammed in a room at Techwood consuming the data, ticking and tying.

Downstairs our InstaBracket kiosk awaits its debut. A bit on edge, I chewed a few nails.

At approximately 7:57 PM on 3/17/13, the InstaBracket was unveiled to a nation starving for randomness. Behold your savior from order and reason.

At six different locations across the country (LA, Washington, Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia) kiosks and mega brackets were stationed for the public to enjoy. Let the madness begin.

All told, across all environments (Facebook,, Twitter and the Instabracket kiosk), we created over 76,000 brackets and shared or printed almost 9,500. To say we helped spread the madness would be an understatement.

Much thanks to an amazing team (Hongwei, Chris, Lauren and Simon), great support from management (Brian) and an extremely cool customer (Ryan Kilpatrick).