Hard to believe that the NCAA Mens’ Basketball March Madness Tournament is just around the corner — but it is, and this year CBS Sports is adding a high-quality viewing option to its March Madness On Demand (MMOD) video player.
The new player uses Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Silverlight (CBS has a history with Microsoft and previously used the Windows Media Player). You can stream all 63 tournament games in standard definition at approximately 550kbps, or enjoy a sharper picture with the high-quality player with streams delivered up to 1.5 mbps.
Microsoft’s video technology already proved it can handle big sporting events during last year’s Olympics. Though Silverlight isn’t as ubiquitous as Flash, Microsoft says more than 100 million PCs have installed Silverlight 2.
The Silverlight player will also sport a new bracket view of the tournament, so you can pan around and select games to watch from the tournament tree.
CBS first launched MMOD in 2003 and through 2005, the network charged a subscription fee to watch the games. In 2006, CBS made MMOD free and the audience has been growing steadily ever since. In 2006, 1.3 million users registered for the service; in 2007 there were 1.7 million users and MMOD generated $4 million in ad revenue; and in 2008 MMOD had 4.8 million users and generated $23 million in ad revenue.
The audience for MMOD actually peaks at the beginning of the tournament as games happen during the day and people catch up during work, and dwindles as the tournament progresses and the remaining games are played at night.
Previously, CBS Sports had used a “waiting room” to throttle the number of concurrent people watching, but the site doesn’t plan to do that this year. Additionally, Joost will not be carrying the March Madness live stream this year.
A little disappointing are the social features CBS Sports has lined up for the tournament. While the video player will be integrated into the Facebook bracket, only those members of the CBSSports.com community will be able to chat while the games happen.
CBS Sports certainly doesn’t sit on the bench when it comes to streaming sports online. Last year the network served up the Masters, the U.S. Open Tennis Finals, SEC Football and SEC Basketball.
The NCAA Tournament begins March 15.