March Madness on Demand: What the Online Olympics Should Have Been

The first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament kicks off in about two weeks — and as usual, CBS Sports will have broadcast and online coverage of all the games. For those that were disappointed by the lack of live video available from the 2010 Winter Olympics last month, CBS Sports’ philosophy toward its online coverage at March Madness on Demand should come as a welcome change.

Unlike NBC’s Olympics coverage, CBS is committed to making the NCAA tournament live, open, and available to anyone who wants to watch it on whichever screen they can. Beginning with “Selection Sunday” on March 14 and extending through the final National Championship game on April 5, March Madness on Demand (MMOD) will stream every game of the 2010 tournament live online, with highlights and full game match-ups available after the games have aired.

“We’ve always taken the approach with MMOD that we want to make sure it’s as accessible as possible,” Jason Kint, senior vice president and general manager of CBS Sports, said in a phone interview. “We think the results speak for themselves — there’s no other live sports event on an annual basis that comes close to MMOD in terms of audience reach or the amount of time people spent watching games online.”

Part of the reason that CBS Sports is so committed to making the tournament available online is that it isn’t worried about the online audience cannibalizing the broadcast audience. On the contrary, the broadcaster says that its research pretty clearly shows that its online audience is additive, tuning in online mainly during work hours when it’s not able to watch on the big screen and slowing when game broadcasts happen in prime time.

“We’re providing an incremental opportunity for people to watch the games online, in particular people who are at work during Thursday and Friday games or who can’t be in front of a TV for whatever reason,” Kint said.

That approach has paid off big. Since opening up the games and running the entire tournament live, CBS Sports and the NCAA have had tremendous success with both viewers and advertisers. In 2009, MMOD netted 7.52 million unique visitors and 8.6 million total hours of live streaming video and audio consumed. Not just that, but CBS Sports has been able to monetize those views, pulling in about $30 million in advertising revenue online during the tournament.

Compare that to NBC’s Olympics numbers: While the broadcaster touted 46 million unique visits during the Winter Olympics, it only served up 3.5 million hours of streaming video — about half of what MMOD did last year. One has to wonder how much video it might have shown had its Winter Games coverage not been tape delayed or restricted behind a pay wall.

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