DirecTV Still Driving Mega Madness


DirecTV is going to the hoop with a full array of interactive offerings for its 2009 Mega March Madness subscription package.
The $69 NCAA men's college basketball tournament out-of-market package -- distributed in partnership with CBS Sports and now in its 10th exclusive year on the satellite leader -- proffers 37 tournament games in HD, supported by an interactive mix channel showcasing four games simultaneously, according to Eric Shanks, executive vice president for DirecTV Entertainment.
Subscribers choosing a game from the mix channel will automatically be directed to that game's high-definition feed if they have a HD TV set, or to the standard-definition feed for traditional format set owners. While watching any game, fans can also call up an on-screen "L-wrap" to check scores from other games in progress and cycle through all the current round's match-ups.
As part of the package, subscribers can input their tournament brackets on the computer, which will be automatically updated after the end of each game, according to Shanks.
In addition, all DirecTV subscribers can tap into CBS Sports's March Madness On Demand broadband package that features live streaming and same-day highlights of every tournament game.
Shanks said the interactive offerings are very popular with subscribers -- more than 60% of Mega March Madness subscribers with interactive boxes take advantage of the features, a higher percentage than that of its NFL Sunday Ticket and YES Network's New York Yankees interactive packages.
"The participation goes to show how involved interactively subscribers are in the package," Shanks said.
Also, several top college basketball coaches will provide a promotional assist to DirecTV's Mega March Madness package. Louisville Cardinals' Rick Pitino, Memphis Tigers' John Calipari, Tennessee Volunteers' Bruce Pearl, Washington Huskies' Lorenzo Romar and Oklahoma Sooners' Jeff Capel will appear on a one-hour preview show, dubbed DirecTV's bracket breakdown, premiering on DirecTV's 101 Network, March 16.

"We really believe in a unique, differentiated content experience for our DirecTV customers, so making this show available for all customers is just a benefit of being a DirecTV customer and drives awareness of the package," he said
While Shanks would not reveal package subscriber numbers from last year or venture a buy-rate prediction for this year's offering, he said CBS Sports's free streaming of tournament games via MMOD has had an adverse affect on subscriptions.
"It definitely hurts the package, but the pay package is still a great value to tournament fans," he said. "You can't get HD on the Internet. And it's still tough to circle 12 to 15 guys around a computer screen."
DirecTV is experiencing a 17% uptick in ad revenue for the two to three minutes per hour of commercial  time it sells within the package. The satellite service, which inserts spots into the local pod breaks for CBS stations carrying the games, has secured schedules with Warner Bros., auto insurance company Geico and online stock trading company E-Trade.
Still, Shanks said the network will have to take a close look at the package when it comes up for renewal, although he would not specify a date. Sources close to the deal however say it expires in 2010.
"When the time comes we'll have a discussion regarding the renewal and we'll take a look at it," he said. "Depending on everything else that's going on, if there's value to having the package, the answer is [we'll renew]."