Improving The Digital Experience Of March Madness And Why It Will Never Happen

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

It seems almost arcane to think that the NCAA tournament wasn’t streamed live and available everywhere. That you could only watch whatever regional games was on CBS is almost unthinkable in this day and age. It wasn’t all that long ago that this was the reality of the situation. Now, you can see every game on just about any device from your desktop to your tablet to your phone and of course your television. But it’s not good enough because in the end, the user is still getting screwed.

March Madness

In 2003 when the NCAA and CBS began streaming March Madness it had two main  online sponsors, Dell and Marriott. We shouldn’t be surprised that the live streams over delivered on viewers. In the early years there was a limit on the bandwidth available so if you wanted to watch games online and not pay then you had to stand in a digital que. If you wanted to pay then you got access immediately. Now, massive improvement. No waiting except for the excessive amount of ads on the first two days. On Thursday, the first full day, I personally sat through 2 minutes of ads (a lifetime online) before being allowed to watch a game. Maybe that was one time only log in or bad timing but none the less.

Online History of the NCAA Tournament.

10 years in the experience has improved as have the ad dollars. However, the user experience is still not where it should be. Why? Because this is a business run by TV executives and the NCAA makes 90% of their revenue from March Madness The last contract that the NCAA signed with the TV networks (CBS and Turner Sports) is for 14 years and $10.8 billion. In 2011 the networks made $738 million from TV ad revenue and $60 million in online ad revenue in 2012. This is a lot of money and the cash cow continues to be TV advertising therefore the sacred cash cow will be protected at all costs.

If the NCAA and the TV networks were really smart they would split the TV and online experience into two separate groups then manage and sell them separately.  By doing this they would accept that the TV and online experiences are different. This would be the entertainment equivalent of walking on water. However if this was done, and online people could run the live streams you would see March Madness not only on Apple and Google’s Android platform but also on XBOX (Microsoft’s gaming platform) Playstation Network (Sony) and Google’s video platform,  YouTube. They could also sell it to other online providers like Yahoo and AOL. Best part, it would an experience that fits the medium.

The TV people would scream that this is taking away from their TV ad revenue. Not true. Why do people watch on computer, tablet and phone screens? CAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO A TV! If they did, they would be in front of their 50 inch TV screen and not have to think about mobile provider data rates or buffering.

It’s also not the same experience and it’s time people accepted that. If you are watching the games on your 50 inch TV through your cable or satellite provider your signal will not diminish if your 5 neighbors are watching it too. If your watching online and the same 5 neighbors begin watching the Twilight movies via Netflix your viewing quality may degrade. You can flip between games much faster on TV than you can online too. So let’s stop pretending that this is the same.

The advertisers make out too. You’ll have more target ads online then you will on TV and that is only going to improve over time. So if your not in the market for a car but you are for a pizza then guess what? Advertisers will have a better chance of getting their product or service in front of someone who is more inclined to purchase.

Finally, do not GEO BLOCK the online experience. If a someone is traveling to Italy during March Madness then make sure they can see the games. If they are that committed to watching March Madness at 2am on a Saturday then God Bless that fan.

Will this ever happen? Only if one or both of the following things happen:

1) A major sport such as the NFL negotiates this into their next set of TV contracts.

2) Viewership or ad revenue declines for TV.

In the end the user is not the concern, even if the TV networks and the NCAA say they are. It’s about money but by not focusing on the user and accepting the idea of disruption then the NCAA in particular is leaving lots of money on the table.

Frontine- Money & March Madness

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“Traditional” Beats “New” When It Comes to Live Sports (Despite Red Bull)

This past fall the Red Bull Stratos jump had at its peak 8 million concurrent views on YouTube. That annihilated the streaming of last years Super Bowl which had 2.1 million uniques which was on NBCSports.com. No one knew what would happen when the streams hit that 8 million mark and there was some genuine concern among the engineers but the system held up. A major part of the system though hasn’t held up well this past year.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is rapidly becoming a leader in the cloud space. According to a Bloomberg report by Cory Johnson AWS will generate $1.6 billion in revenue in 2012. It’s not all fun and games for AWS though. Christmas Eve saw Netflix go down. According a Wall Street Journal article 95% of Netflix computational and storage needs are handled by AWS. Netflix in turn accounts for 33% of peak downstream residential internet traffic in North America so if AWS goes down, which it’s done a few times this year, it’s a problem.

If YouTube (who’s parent company is Google) would have failed during the Red Bull Stratos jump one could argue about the level of consumer outrage it would have received from the public. If YouTube was hosting the Super Bowl or the BCS National TItle Game on the other hand and the stream fails then there is a pretty good chance that the level of consumer outrage would be significantly higher.

SNF-DALvWSH

For all of the the mocking and criticism that goes toward broadcast television, cable and satellite providers they have something that people will continue to pay for, reliability. If the Super Bowl is on you can bet that you are going to be able to find a reliable “old school” way to watch it. The broadcast, cable or satellite signal does not get weighed down by the amount of people using it. It does not need to be ‘throttled down’ just to be able to continue showing you the game or event.

Strip away the economics of this argument and just look at the stability of the platforms and on that alone it is easy to see why live sports will continue to be the lifeblood of “traditional” outlets like broadcast, cable and satellite. While leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and UFC will continue to offer live streams of games and events they will not be able to deliver the same experience or reliability night in and night out like the “traditional” outlets can.

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