Streaming March Madness tournament games next month won’t be as free and easy as it was last year, with broadcast partners CBS (NYSE: CBS) and Turner announcing a tiered plan featuring an authenticated pay wall for personal-computer viewing and a $3.99 premium charge for all mobile access.
Last year’s free-to-view March Madness on Demand was wildly popular for CBS and Turner, which in 2010 teamed on a 14-year, $10.8 billion broadcast license for the premiere post-season event for collegiate basketball. In 2011, usage across platforms for early-round games was as high as 3 million unique users daily.
This year, however, the newly christened “March Madness Live” distribution plan will more closely resemble the TV Everywhere authentication model being championed by Turner parent Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) Corp.
Games broadcast on CBS will still be available for free on CBSSports.com on Macs and PCs, but there will now be pay walls on other digital viewing.
Turner will stream all tournament games shown on both networks on personal computers through the TV Everywhere authentication model, with subscribers to all major TV service providers except Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) able to access games shown on TBS.com, TNT.tv and truTV.com
Mobile viewing will require a premium payment.
For $3.99, consumers will be able to access all tournament games not just on Macs and PCs, but iPads, iPhones and Android devices.
It’s not the first time mobile users have had to pay a premium — before it defrayed much of its March Madness licensing costs by partnering with Turner, CBS in 2009 charged iPhone users $4.99 to stream live video of tournament games.
The $3.99 all-access price is being criticized by media analysts, who note that loyal cable and satellite subscribers actually pay more for authentication and don’t have the benefit of mobile device access.
“We would like to have seen CBS/Turner offer a much higher fee for non-authenticated subscribers ($20 or more) who want the full March Madness on Demand with the authenticated price at $3.99,” wrote BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield. “Turner/CBS should want to enhance the value perception of a multichannel video subscription in consumers’ minds and at the same time put extreme pressure on MVPDs like Time Warner Cable who are not yet authenticating.”