Diary of a Cord Cutter: March Madness Opens The Doors For OTT

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 3.27.2017


March Madness Live was for several years the pinnacle of giving customers what they want. Then they powers that be got greedy. Those powers being CBS and TBS Sports who will spend a combined $19.6 billion to broadcast the NCAA Tournament through 2032decided that a good user experience was just wrong. So they looked backward through the looking glass and forced people to sign in to their cable or satellite provider to watch games online. It wasn’t always like this but the move is a huge opportunity for OTT providers.

When March Madness was first streamed online, for free and without a cable or satellite subscription, it blew the doors off all of the predictions. People asked for it for years and when they finally got it, they responded in spades.

Over the last few years, i.e. since signing this massive deal, CBS and TBS Sports now allow you 3 hours of live streaming until you are forced to sign in with your cable or satellite subscription which of course more and more people do not have. You are allowed to watch the game that is on CBS broadcast channel (which they did stream for free without having to sign in unlike some other NBC does with Sunday Night Football) if you are a cord cutter but you miss out on the games on TBS, TNT and TrueTV.

This is music to the ears of OTT providers like Sling TV, PlaystationVUE and DirecTV Now. All of which offer TBS, TNT and TrueTV with prices ranging from  $25 to $35. A cord cutter could literally sign up for a month, spend $25 and watch all of the games without every having to go to the March Madness streaming website or app. Bonus, they can watch these channels anywhere they want too.

PlaystationVUE was advertising heavily on the March Madness streaming site. They even sponsored the ‘Boss Button’. So while they paid for advertising, they probably got a lot more people to sign up to their service taking people away from March Madness Live.

While these may not sound cheap options they are certainly cheaper than the typical cable and satellite subscription that CBS and TBS Sports are pushing you to.

This was an event cornered by March Madness Live and the logic must have been that since CBS and TBS Sports spent so much on the broadcasting rights that they felt compelled to push people back to a place where their margins are better. This in the end is short sighted thinking and shows that CBS and TBS Sports are not concerned about the end user in the slightest.

And it’s not like CBS and TBS Sports are not making their money on March Madness Live. They have plastered the sites with enough ad’s to make a Nascar fan dizzy and force you to watch a commercial every time you switched games. March Madness Live went from one of the best user experiences to one of the worst in matter of a few years.

It doesn’t matter now if March Madness Live changes its ways and reverts back to when all of the games where free. They have already lost and the OTT providers are coming on hard and welcoming users with open arms.  It is sad to see such a good thing shoot itself in the front due to backwards thinking but on the other hand, there are better options out there.

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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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