As the final seconds of the last second-round game ticked off the clock Sunday night, Larry Kramer talked about the network’s massive ad-supported venture. “This was our ‘Final Four’,” Kramer, president of CBS Digital said. “The size of the TV audiences grow as ‘Final Four’ weekend approaches. For the web, it’s the opposite,” he explained. “Our busy time is when most games are being played and you have choices to make … at the end of this tournament, games are on everywhere. You have all of these things going on during work … It’s the perfect storm — in a great way.”
The ad-supported online effort leveraged work that CBS Sports would do either way. One concern was that the web might divert the TV audience. That didn’t happen, said Kramer. “We hit record ratings on TV and on the web. We proved the point – this is all additive.” (CBS had its best two-day average since 1997.)
Going into the complex event, “the only issue for us was could we as not a portal be able to manage as massive an audience?” With 48 games in the record books, the answer is yes. Kramer credits tech partners MLB.com, Akamai and Limelight Networks but attributes much of the success to CBSSportsline.com’s experience with fantasy games. The focus on the user experience and customer led to the idea of creating a waiting room with guaranteed access for VIPs ahead of general admission registrants. They set the limit for VIPs at 250,000. “The whole general admission thing was to buy ourselves confidence and not set expectations.” They knew the first hours on Thursday would be the busiest and planned accordingly. “Right at the beginning we let in a smaller number; once we had real confidence we opened up the spigot.” Concurrent views topped out at 268,000 that afternoon; after that, the average was closer to 150,000-170,000.
The biggest surprise? “What surprised me was how little after the first hour customer support was required. We had a lot of people ready. What I was worried about were the things we couldn’t control (like office networks keeping people out) â€¦ We didn’t get that.