CBS’ online coverage of March Madness — the NCAA basketball tourney — has raked in about $37 million in ad sales. Look for at least 8 million unique viewers.
The online viewership is dwarfed by the traditional telecasts, but that $37 mil is not a bad showing, considering it comes from the charity stripe. In its first year of free and open access, March Madness on Demand made a measly $4 million.
The evolution of CBS’ online tournament coverage shows that old media can learn from its mistakes and limitations, given enough time.
The network’s early attempts at online NCAA came with an admission charge, $15 back in 2004. Two years later, it offered feeds for free, but viewers had to go through an annoying registration process — and wait in “lines” to enter the video portal. Long waits, smeary images, frozen screens — the bad old days.
Then, in 2008, CBS got it: full access for everyone, no blackouts and no marketing-driven registration. The network starting streaming all, including the Final Four and Championship Game. Overall quality was up, slowness down.
This year there’s the HQ video, back again after debuting in 2009. Those with the right stuff get widescreen HQ video via the March Madness on Demand player. CBS says viewers can watch picture-in-picture highlights of ongoing action inside of a live video stream.
The standard player runs on Adobe Flash, while the HQ comes via Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. New this year for the HQ is something called IS Smooth Streaming, which adjusts the bitrate to match your online video setup. Audio comes from Westwood One’s coverage. Stats can be displayed onscreen as well.
CBS to some extent is doing what it has to, since nothing less than full (and free) access would satisfy fans. Look at the animosity NBC generated with its crappy online coverage (or non-coverage) of the previous two Olympics Games. NBC doesn’t seem to be learning anything from this biennial outpouring of hate, but its rivals no doubt are paying attention.
Here are some other venues for the web streams: CNN.com, ESPN.com, Facebook and CBS Interactive properties TV.com, CBS.com, CNET.com and GameSpot.com. The March Madness iPhone app goes for $10.
Last year, CBS posted about $32 million in ad revenue for March Madness on Demand. There were 7.52 million unique visitors in 2009, a 58% increase over 2008, the network said. About 8.6 million total hours of video and audio were gobbled up by sports fans, a 75% increase over 2008.