Millions are about to engage in digital hoops madness.
Turner Sports and CBS Sports executives believe that with more devices, consumers’ increased familiarity with the authentication process and a larger TV Everywhere universe overall NCAA March Madness Live will grow during the upcoming college basketball tournament.
Produced by Turner Sports, NCAA March Madness Live will offer free streaming of the 67 games comprising the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament across myriad online, mobile and tablet devices to pay TV subscribers. Also featuring social and interactive components, it will launch from ncaa.com/marchmadness, CBSSports.com and www.bleacherreport.com, along with Google Play and the App Store.
After the 68-team field is revealed on CBS's presentation of the NCAA Baskeball Championship Selection Show on March 17, the tourney tips with TruTV’s coverage of the First Four on March 19 and 20 and concludes with the national championship game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on April 8.
Officials at Turner said its TV Everywhere universe now exceeds 80 million households, up from 75 million at this time in 2012. That total does not include Time Warner Cable video subscribers. Turner, which has been unable to reach a long-term TV Everywhere deal with Time Warner Cable, has inked an “interim solution” with the provider that will enable the No. 2 MSO’s subs to stream games – but no other programming – during the tourney.
Earlier this month, Turner signed a comprehensive carriage deal with the National Cable Television Cooperative that includes TV Everywhere rights, enabling members to stream NCAA March Madness Live. A spokesman on March 14 said that 84 members will offer the digital service via Clearleap’s or the group’s own WTVE platform. Others members, he said, may have negotiated their own deals with vendors like Synacor.
Turner’s current TV Everywhere partners include Comcast, Verizon, Dish, Cox, AT&T, Direct TV, Cablevision, Charter, Suddenlink, Mediacom, Wide Open West, Bend Broadband, Atlantic Broadband, Cable One, Massillon Cable, Blue Ridge Cable, Midcontinent Cable, Grande Communications, and EPB Fiber Optics.
Mark Johnson, Turner Sports vice president of business operations, said the digital play this year includes smart phones and tablets running on Android 4.0+ operating system, as well as iPhone5 and iPad mini.
“We added Android handsets last year, and have expanded the number of handsets and added Android tablets,” he said. “IOS and Android are the two dominant [operating systems],” said Johnson, noting that Turner has elected not to support Blackberry and Window-based devices. “We looked at it, but there isn’t enough penetration there currently.”
Johnson also said that consumers, in general. via entertainment vehicles and sports fans, in particular, through NBCUniversal’s expansive multiplatform coverage of the 2012 London Olympics are more attuned to authenticating to gain access to digital and mobile content.
“With more people using more devices and becoming comfortable with authentication, we’ll continue to grow,” said Johnson in an interview during media day for tournament in Manhattan on March 11.
In 2012, NCAA.com/March Madness Live, CBSSports.com, SI.com, TruTV.com, TNT.tv and TBS.com collectively delivered over 220 million visits across online and mobile platforms, an 11% increase from 198 million in 2011, according to Turner officials.
During the opening week of the 2012 tourney (March 11-18) when the most live games were available, NCAA.com and NCAA March Madness Live generated 31.3 million visits across broadband and mobile platforms, even with 2011 results. Last year, the mobile platform – mobile Web and apps – delivered over 33 million visits, a 32% jump from 2011,while total visits across mobile apps grew 17%.
Users can gain access to the action on TNT, TBS and TruTV on their preferred digital device by logging in with their TV service provider information at NCAA March Madness Live, while all games on broadcast teammate CBS will be accessible sans registration requirements. Those who are not pay-tv subscribers will be able to check out up to four hours of live game streaming without viewer registration.
During the 2012 tourney, authentication was also in play, but non-pay TV subscribers could gain broadband or mobile access to all of the game action for a fee. That’s not the case this time around.
“We put a $3.99 fee on it to apply the concept of TV Everywhere. We couldn’t give [the video stream of the games] away for free, because it would have undermined the authenticated model to the distributors,” said Johnson.
Last year, Turner Sports built video players for the networks airing the tournament and for cable and satellite providers. “This year, we have stitched things into NCAA March Madness Live. Users come right to it and don’t have to worry about going to TNT’s or Comcast’s website and then say, ‘How do I authenticate?’ That’s a huge change, which is similar to the Olympics and other products.”
At the media event, Johnson showed a screen on his laptop that housed a multitude of provider logos, where users could click on their cable or satellite company, register and “get access to content right there. That alone will increase usage,” said Johnson. “It’s more seamless and interactive for the user.”
Much of the digital viewing likely will occur on March 21 and 22. “Broadband connections at work on that first Thursday and Friday are still huge for us. On those two days we’ll do 40 percent to 50 percent of our streams,” said Johnson.
Whereas broadband dominates the aforementioned days, when it comes to weekends NCAA March Madness Live on mobile is the fashion, as people are “running to the mall, or their kids’ soccer practice. They are checking the scores, looking at streams. Mobile has become the weekend device,” said Johnson.
Johnson said NCAA March Madness Live will house a complete FAQ section about authentication. There will be messaging on the tournament networks and providers’ websites, plus on-air promos touting the digital service. “We’ve been working with our networks, the folks at CBS and major distributors about providing information. We’re being proactive about this and are ready to disseminate information in response to users emails, calls and tweets.”
NCAA March Madness Live is also prepared to accommodate those who might not be quite ready to verify their subscription status, when the tourney tips off in earnest.
“On Thursday (March 21) at noon, there is going to be a rush to get in," said Johnson. "Users can watch a preview for four hours, just for live video. They’ll get messages along the way as they get closer to the end of the period indicating that they have to authenticate.”
On the adverising front, NCAA March Madness Live is sold out and is expected to generate some $70 million in revenue, up from $60 million in 2012.
NCAA Corporate Champions, Capital One, Coke Zero and AT&T are the co-presenting sponsors of NCAA March Madness Live. Buick, Capital One and Coke Zero will sponsor the platform’s iOS app, while AT&T, Infiniti and LG Electronics USA will sponsor the Android app.