CBS College Sports Deepens Its Bench For ‘Madness’

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After initially reaching agreements with Comcast and Bresnan, CBS has deepened its distribution bench for its video-on-demand package tied to the NCAA Division 1 college basketball tournament.

Produced by CBS Sports, CBS College Sports Network and the NCAA, the “NCAA March Madness Highlights” VOD package comprises advertising-free customized highlights for the 63 tournament games, plus archival vignettes.

CBS College Sports Network said it also reached agreements for the package, available in both standard- and high-definition, with Charter Communications, Dish Network, Insight Communications, Mediacom Communications, Midcontinent Communications, Wave Broadband, Sunflower Broadband and Horry Telephone Cooperative, all of which carry the networ. Formerly known as CSTV, the network was rechristened this month. 

“We're working together with our partners building an innovative product that drives their core HD and VOD consumer messaging,” said Bob Rose, executive vice president, distribution at the cable network. “The NCAA March Madness VOD initiative has received an overwhelming response and is just the beginning of where were going to take our relationship with distribution partners.”

Rose also said deals were in place with Cablevision Systems and Verizon’s FiOS, which do not carry the linear service, and talks continue with other providers.

“There are deals still to come,” he said. “We could be in 90% of the VOD-enabled homes by when the tournament starts on March 20.”

The “NCAA March Madness Memories” VOD package is already available to distributors.

Diane Kerekes, Comcast vice president of video content, called the package “a fantastic addition” to the operator’s Project Infinity initiative, which, among other facets, wants to give the operator’s digital customers more than 1,000 HD choices and 6,000 movie titles in 2008.

“Highlights in HD from 63 games and the historic buzzer-beaters make for very compelling product,” she said during a phone interview last week,

As she was speaking to a reporter, she checked the VOD interface, which listed such NCAA March Madness Memories as Villanova upsetting Georgetown to win the 1985 title game; Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper to top Kentucky at the buzzer; and Bill Walton dropping 44 on Memphis State.

Kerekes said Comcast is ratcheting up a variety of platforms to tout the March Madness package, including running cross-channel spots, banners on Comcast.net, and touts on its on-demand barker channel The VOD package has also been trumpeted through on-air mentions on Comcast’s various regional sports networks’ coverage of college hoops.

CBS College Sports Network is supplying affiliates with taggable spots featuring anchor Seth Davis, customizable Web banners, ad slicks and radio scripts.

It will run ads on CBSportsLine.com and ESPN.com, among other outlets. Perhaps most importantly, the package will also receive on-air promotion during CBS’s telecasts of the tournament games themselves.

Terry Denson, vice president of Verizon FiOS TV content and programming, said March Madness produces the same kind of fever as NFL games, and that the “immediacy of the highlights” holds great consumer appeal.

TVN will deliver the NCAA March Madness Highlights package to Verizon within 24 hours, said Denson. Comcast Media Center will also transport the VOD highlights to different distributors, according to Rose.

Denson said “we think the HD VOD package is great content for our existing customers and a strong acquisition tool for those who may be thinking of buying a big-screen TV for the tournament.”

He noted that with the re-branding from CSTV and new day-to-day leadership under Tony Petitti, executive vice president and executive producer, CBS Sports, Verizon is bullish on network.

“I worked with Tony at ABC and know he does a great job. Before, [CSTV] had a more regional feel to it. With a new national brand and leadership, CBS College Sports Network will get the most of out its distribution of the sports,” said Denson, noting that Verizon was “nearing finalization” of a linear carriage deal for the service.

For his part, Rose said: “We have new distributors talking about carriage agreements, current distributors talking about expanding our relationship, and MSO programming executives interested in acquiring more sports content for their platforms. Doors are wide open, as we exchange ideas and discuss partnerships that help both companies achieve their respective goals.”

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