Turner Takes Over March Madness on Demand

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CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting today announced a landmark, $10.8 billion deal to jointly broadcast the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament over the next 14 years, in a partnership that will enable the companies to air every single March Madness matchup by splitting coverage between CBS and three of Turner’s cable networks. But what does it mean for March Madness on Demand (MMOD), the popular online extension of the tournament, which millions of viewers tune into to keep track of the games while at work or when not near a TV?

As part of its multimedia rights deal with the NCAA, CBS Sports has produced the MMOD offering over the last several years, providing free access to every game of the tournament online. And the broadband coverage of the tournament has fared very well over the years, particularly in the early rounds of the tournament, at which point many of the games play out on weekdays when college basketball fans are at work.

During this year’s tournament, for instance, CBS Sports saw record viewership online after just four days of March Madness, delivering more than 8.7 million hours of live streaming video and audio during the first two rounds. CBS Sports ended the tournament with 11.7 million hours of NCAA action streamed online and 8.3 million unique visitors to the MMOD site.

As part of the new NCAA partnership, Turner will take over the online and multimedia portion of the tournament’s distribution, beginning with next year’s implementation of March Madness on Demand. Turner is no stranger to producing online video services for sports leagues — it is behind the NBA’s League Pass Broadband subscription offering, and also produces the online component for the PGA Championship on PGA.com.

CBS Sports has used Microsoft Silverlight for the high-quality video and interactive features in its HD video player over the last two years, but it also has a lower-quality Flash stream available for viewers that don’t have the Silverlight plugin installed. While CBS has turned to Silverlight for MMOD, Turner has traditionally been an Adobe Flash shop, depending on Flash for delivery of all video on NBA.com and PGA.com over the last several years.

That said, it’s too early to tell which technology will be used for the event. When asked whether next year’s MMOD video would be powered by Flash or Silverlight Turner Sports COO Lenny Daniels wrote, “Those plans have not yet been finalized.” And a Turner spokesperson said in a phone conversation that the company would evaluate all options and pick the one it believes “provides the best experience for the consumer.”

Viewers can probably expect strong multiplatform delivery options from Turner next year, including mobile distribution through Apple iPhone, iPad and Google Android applications. While Turner wouldn’t comment on its plans for next year’s MMOD over mobile platforms, the company has been very aggressive with its other sports properties, such as rolling out NBA League Pass Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

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