CBS March Madness on Demand: 1.2 million served

Workplace productivity will dip to dangerously low levels. Universities and college classrooms will be more empty than usual. And there will be a run on food and beverages at the supermarket. No, the bird flu hasn’t arrived but another form of dementia has: March Madness.

The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament signal the beginning of the college hoop fan’s Nirvana: a weekend filled with 48 do-or-die games. Here’s a quick synopsis of the technology behind the big weekend:

The HD experience
Truck vendors NEP, NCP, F&F Productions and Coreplex are the four truck vendors that CBS has enlisted to shoot and produce the games. Six out of the eight trucks are HD as CBS expects to delivery every game in HD except for two of the sites in the first round.

F&F Production’s GTX14 truck will pull Final Four duty, traveling from Greensboro, NC to Washington DC and then to Indianapolis on April 1 for the Final Four. The truck is a new addition to the CBS staple, built for the network’s SEC football and basketball coverage in 2005. Gear includes a Grass Valley HD Kalypso switcher, a Yamaha D1 audio console, 12 Ikegami HD-79 cameras and a combination of Fujinon 101x and 87x lenses. Three EVS LSM systems and four Sony HD5500 HDCAM decks are also on hand for recording and playback. The second F&F truck is GTX 12, a clone of the first one.

“We design our mobile units to have maximum accessibility,” says Bill McKechney, F&F Productions VP, engineering. “The equipment racks are designed so someone can get to equipment even when the truck is in an on-air situation.”

For more on the trucks click here.

Hoop Stream Dreams
All industry eyes will be on March Madness On Demand, the CBS Sports free live streaming video service. For the past two years CBS has offered an online subscription service for basketball fans that wanted to see all of the games. This year CBS is moving to an advertising-supported free service.

“The fastest growing segment of advertising is on the Internet and our thought was if there ever was a property that was custom made for free streaming video is the NCAA tournament,” says Sean McManus, president CBS News and Sports. “We had a pretty successful couple of years charging for the product but our thinking is if you take the advertising demand on this side and take the fact that we will get enormous amount of interest in the first couple of days there is a lot more money and revenue to be generated than with the subscription model.” is providing some of the backend functionality, helping ready the content for distribution over Internet servers from Akamai and other providers. CBS Sports expects to break some streaming records, particularly on March 16 and 17, and it has put some safe guards in place to give visitors an enjoyable experience.

For more on CBS’ streaming plans click here.

Downloadable Dunks
Apple’s iTunes store will have condensed versions of games and full-length versions of the semifinal and championship games available for download. One cool thing about the service is fans can get highlights from every game plus the semi-finals and championship game for $19.99.

Thought Equity will produce the condensed versions of CBS Sports’ broadcasts and also provide expert analysis and commentary on each game of the package, as well as utilize its vast collection of 250 college sports web sites to market the service to sports fans all over the country.

Time Warner Cable viewers will also be able to catch the NCAA action on demand. For 99 cents viewers will be able to watch condensed versions of the games ad for the first/second rounds of the NCAA tournament, CSTV, CBS Sports and TWC will offer bundles containing two condensed games of 10-20 minutes each in length, for the price of one. Individual games from the regional semifinals throughout the end of the tournament will each be 15-20 minutes in length. The content will be available for purchase to Time Warner Cable customers through April 10, 2006.

Fan Frenzy
Websites for local TV and radio stations and newspapers will also go a bit mad thanks to MediaSpan’s Fan Frenzy interactive bracket game.

“It’s a syndicated program distributed to the client’s Web site and it lets them place their own local advertising into the bracket while we own the national advertising,” says Mark Zagorski, MediaSpan director of marketing.

The FanFrenzy bracket works differently from other brackets in that fans make picks round by round rather than all at once. Zagorski says that generates more return visits (also helping is that if someone picks the whole thing correctly they win $100,000).

More than 160 Web sites will feature Fan Frenzy and Zagorski expects more than 100,000 people to sign up by the tip-off.

“We’re already working on similar sites for NASCAR, college bowl games, and the NFL,” says Zagorski. “Next up is the World Cup and it will feature stories and information that make it more than just a game.”

Mobile Hoops
On the mobile front, the new video service from Cingular Wireless gets off to a hot start with video highlights from the tournament and bracket updates (users will also be able to fill out a bracket from their phone). Crisp Wireless’ mLogic system will be porting the two-minute video clips for all 64 games to the phones.

“We have a virtual studio at CBS Sportsline where we’ll take in feeds from the games, shoot a quick studio segment, and then send it over in XML format to Cingular,” says Joe Ferreira, CBS Digital Media VP programming and executive producer. “Cingular will then take it through their system and get it out to their subscribers.”

Crisp’s mLogic handles everything from reformatting content automatically to provide an optimal experience for each device as well as rights issues, payments, and even provisioning of content.

“We sit between the content provider and the carriers of the world,” says Boris Fridman, Crisp Wireless CEO. “And we deliver that content in a way that is optimized for the subscribers device.”

Crisp Wireless most recently provided back-end technology for NBC Olympics-related cellphone services.

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