CBS to offer March Madness online for free
By Jane McManus, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
For two years, Manhattan athletic director Bob Byrnes is lucky to have heard alumni complaints. It was the natural frustration of graduates who couldn't make the trip to the NCAA men's basketball tournament to see the Jaspers play in person.
Instead, Manhattan fans had to catch the game on television in the middle of the day or, if out of market, pay for an internet broadcast or DirecTV.
"When you're in the tournament, people do all kinds of gymnastics to try and get the game," Byrnes said.
This year it all just got a little bit easier, especially for diehard fans who inexplicably decide to spend the day at work with NCAA March Madness on Demand, a streaming webcast. CBS had been offering the games online as part of a subscription, but this year the NCAA Tournament will be available for free at NCAAsports.com.
"I think that was the evolution of this product," said Mike Aresco, senior vice president for programming at CBS Sports. "We felt that ultimately the future of online streaming would be on an ad-supported basis."
The webcasts will be free through the regional semifinals, and there will be web blackouts for games aired in local television markets. Press conferences and highlights are also part of the package.
Aresco doesn't think this will take away from television ratings, or erode subscribers to the Direct TV package because viewers tend to watch something online if they are already in front of a computer - but they watch television if they are home. This applies not only to office workers, but college students as well.
Hence the boon for those who lament that the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament are not national holidays.
CBS is paying $6 billion over 11 years to broadcast the tournament, and internet rights were a big part of the package. Aresco said tournament ratings have not been negatively affected by development of a DirecTV package or subscription to the webcasts, which were far fewer in number.
"What we are looking to do is figure out how many platforms are feasible to place content on," Aresco said.
It is less a money-earner than a technology and marketing test, an opportunity to see if free content can attract enough viewers to pull in advertising revenue.