Methods to CBS Sports’ March Madness
By Carl Lindemann
When the USA Today tackled the issue of March Madness streaming and workplace productivity (see USA Today) one would think Federal Reserve Chair Bernanke may soon have to intervene because CBSSports.com’s success in streaming video of March Madness to the workplace will shut down the U.S. economy. In reality, CBS’ opening the online floodgates giving consumers free access to all of the 63 NCAA men’s basketball tournament games is shaping up to be a case study of success demonstrating the power and importance of developing a savvy online strategy.
According to Jason Kint, CBSports.com senior vice president, general manager, the foundation for this year’s breakthrough was laid when the contract for the broadcast rights was struck.
“The people putting this deal together at CBS late 90’s were very forward-thinking and got the interactive video rights as part of all encompassing deal with the NCAA. Because of that, we can be more aggressive,” says Kint.
The core of Kint’s aggressive strategy is aimed at getting March Madness in front of the maximum number of eyeballs. His tactics to achieve this goes beyond just providing free access to what might otherwise be premium content for consumers available only by paid subscription. There’s an open invite to Web sites to join in by linking to the content. Well-known online destinations including ESPN.com, Yahoo! Sports and SI.com as well as prominent social networking sites including Facebook.com will feature the March Madness on Demand (MMOD) video player giving access to live streams. Also, content will go out across the CBS audience network, a pipeline to the online presence for all CBS radio and TV affiliates.
Where this becomes a no-holds-barred free-for-all is with the thousands of additional sites, right down to the Ma and Pa level, that may well jump on. To enable this, a page for Web developers offers five different suggested ways to tie in MMOD content to sites. At the most basic level, this provides banners that link to the MMOD site or CBSSports.com’s College Basketball Scoreboard. At the more advanced level, site operators can direct visitors to a specific championship game featured on their own page.
“There’s a large number of people interested in March Madness and this gives them an opportunity to participate. Say you’re at a community group with a Web site. This is a way to tap in,” Kint says.
In some ways, freeing up the content hearkens back to the early days of the Web where everything was gratis. What’s different here is burgeoning ad revenues. This year’s $21 million haul better than doubles last year’s. Another advantage of CBS’ contract including interactive rights is that it allows Coca Cola, AT&T and Pontiac to be front and center across all platforms right down to the hobby sites that link-in.
Will Success Spoil MMOD?
The scale of MMOD’s success may bring with it unexpected consequences that many might envy. For example, USA Today’s front-page, above-the-fold coverage about how corporate techies are concerned about how to shut out access from company networks because of bandwidth issues as well as the hit to worker productivity. What makes March Madness a corporate concern is that it’s prime for the online office audience.
“The property has such a strong at-work presence because of the Thursday/Friday schedule for contests,” says Kint.
Will CBSSports.com be responsible for a recession triggered by lower productivity or a bandwidth squeeze? Kint doesn’t doubt that some managers may have concerns, but as yet he’s not been contacted about it. For those worried, CBSSports.com freely offers corporate IT pros the information needed to block streams if that’s how they wish to respond. However, the bandwidth issue really isn’t as substantive as it might have been in the past.
“Streaming technology is pretty friendly now. We’re not doing massive 2 Gbps HD-quality streams,” says Kint. “The fact that this happens on just a few days a year puts it into special category with special opportunities. The Christmas holiday is a big success – why not make this a holiday, too?”
To make that happen calls for creative input from the corporate HR department. Kint says that some have found ways to turn MMOD interest to good account. Soon, a case study showing how one such company leveraged this into an opportunity for team building will provide a blueprint for others to follow suit.
Part of the power here comes from the real-time, tribal aspect of the event itself. The spectacle of March Madness is best witnessed live as a shared experience – “DVR resistant,” as Kint describes it. Those that suggest TIVOing games to catch after hours miss the point. Skeptical office managers would do well to wonder if they do better by trying to ban MMOD from the workplace. Is it better to have fans call in sick or stepping out to hit the local sports bar to dodge an in-office blackout of coverage?