March Madness 2022: March Madness Live Is Back With Improved Streaming-Video Quality, New Interactive Features
Addition of 5.1 surround audio and new interactive games mark the popular streaming service's return
In the business of live streaming, countless hours of design and testing is poured into every tiny detail of a service that the creator hopes will become a consistent part of consumers’ everyday entertainment lives for years to come. Then there’s March Madness Live.
Some streaming services may be year-round mainstays (ESPN+, Peacock, Paramount Plus), and others are dedicated to offering a full regular season (NBA League Pass, MLB.tv), But March Madness Live, much like the NCAA Tournament itself, charges into consumers’ lives, offering a spectacular live-video experience, a menu of interactive features, games (such as America’s annual obsession: Bracket Challenge), and simultaneous-event viewing — all driving an intense amount of engagement. Then, as quickly as it entered your life, it’s gone.
Thanks to the hard work and care by the Turner Sports design and technology teams crafting March Madness Live, the popular platform returns each year with a similar look but an improved video- and audio-delivery infrastructure that meets the demands of this marquee event.
“[March Madness Live] has always been fan-centric and fan-first,” says Hania Poole, SVP, digital, Turner Sports. “We try to push the envelope on new technologies and new interactive experiences. Sometimes they have been amazing and continued; sometimes they’ve been tried, and we learned and we pivoted. You’ll see that this year even more.”
Video- and Audio-Quality Improvements
Although the list of interactive features (which are outlined below) is impressive, the Turner Sports design team is quick to point that it knows that the application’s primary objective is deliver a strong live- video–viewing experience for the duration the tournament.
March Madness Live will deliver all 67 games of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to applications across desktop and 18 mobile and connected devices, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox, Google TV, and, for the first time, selected LG Smart TV devices.
At its core, the live-video–delivery experience is improved from a year ago. An investment in backend technology has reduced latency by 20%, according to Kim Saunders, VP/head of product, league brands, Turner Sports. Additionally, this is the first tournament when MML will offer games in 5.1 surround sound. Stream quality, meanwhile, maxes out at 1080i.
March Madness Live is also expanding the availability of multi-game viewing across the menu of connected-device applications. On Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google TV, and Xbox One, users can watch video of two games simultaneously.
“Some of these devices are capable of carrying four games at a time,” notes Poole. “We’ve done that in years past, but we’ve done enough research with fans to know that they really want two.”
Multi-game viewing joins the picture-in-picture option that is already available on mobile, desktop, and tablet. PiP allows users to navigate the app and check out other features without having to leave the game they are currently watching.
Gamification and Keeping Users in the App
Poole considers interactivity the overall theme of this year’s iteration of March Madness Live. Many of the prominent features in this year’s experience are designed to keep fans entertained — and in the platform — longer, even during non-game windows.
“One of the biggest challenges,” says Poole, “is that, because we’re not a streaming platform that spans the entire year, we have to continue to differentiate our experience. The things we lean on are centered on interactivity and keeping people in our experience. We do have an amazing quality of viewing experience, and that will always be first and foremost, but we want to lean in on engaging with fans more and more.”
One of the increasingly popular features of the tournament’s opening weekend is Fast Break Presented by AT&T 5G and Nissan. This viewing option offers a live, originally produced whip-around show in the vein of NFL RedZone. Fast Break offers live look-ins, quick-turnaround highlights, and continuous up-to-the-minute coverage of action from around the country. This year, Fast Break takes another step forward with the introduction of enhanced analytics from Genius Sports-owned tracking and analytics provider Second Spectrum.
Back for a second year is “The Catch Up”: short highlight reels of active games allow the user to see some of the big plays in a given game before diving into live coverage. Approximately every two minutes, the video is updated dynamically via AI as the game progresses.
Turner Sports Senior Director, Business Operations, Joanna Lieberman says, “The Catch Up” performed well in its debut last year, and data suggests that fans found it useful, especially when multiple games were going on.”
Users will also be able to access full condensed versions of completed games. Both “The Catch Up” and the condensations are powered through a partnership with WSC Sports, a supplier of AI live-video–clipping software.
Also this year, March Madness Live offers multiple linear-style channels designed to give users something fresh to consume all week long. These “montage channels” include Bracket TV (focused on helping viewers fill out their bracket), One Shining Moment (a looping feed of all the “One Shining Moment” tournament videos throughout history), and Classic Games.
“We know that engagement and viewership is focused across the live-game experience,” says Saunders, who joined the March Madness Live team after multiple years working on NBA League Pass. “We’ve put effort into the non-live window to get fans to return and find what content viewers are most interested in. We’re excited to fully engage fans seven days a week during the tournament.”
Also joining the party this year is a new team-management game, Starting Lineup Challenge, which Turner Sports developed in partnership with SharpLink Gaming. Meant as another game to accompany Bracket Challenge and the experience of watching the men’s tournament, the game allows fans to “buy” a lineup of five teams with a set budget. Teams gain value by winning games and freeze following a loss. After every round, users can buy and sell teams to rework their lineup and continue to build their point total. When the tourney ends, the lineup with the highest value wins.
“Our real hope,” says Daniel Wilco, associate product manager, Turner Sports, “is that, while the bracket game is fantastic for engaging users at the start of the tournament — and it’s something that everyone loves and expects, come March Madness — sometimes the first weekend ends, the chaos settles, and your bracket is busted. You may not care about it anymore. We wanted a game where users can be engaged throughout the entire tournament.”
NCAA March Madness Live is managed by Turner Sports in partnership with the NCAA and CBS Sports and is available to download across 18 mobile and connected devices, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox, Google TV, and selected LG Smart TV devices. Fans can also access all tournament games via live streaming on TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTV’s digital platforms and on participating TV-provider websites and apps. The CBS telecast can be viewed via the web and on mobile devices with no authentication required and via Paramount+ on connected devices.