CBS Mulls 'March Madness' Cross-Platform Play

While its multiplatform coverage of the Winter Olympics is sure to make NBC Sports the most viewed sports Internet property in February, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) will take back the spotlight on March 9, when Web surfers gain access to all 63 games from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament through March Madness On Demand (MMOD).

Its MMOD coverage has been a big draw for broadband users in recent years, delivering 8.6 million total hours of video to 7.52 million unique visitors during the 2009 tourney. (See CBS's March Madness Tally: 8.6M Hours of Video Viewed.)

MMOD, which allows viewers to toggle among up to four live games, is only available on the Web today. But CBSSports.com senior vice president and general manager Jason Kint says the company is exploring ways to deliver an MMOD-type experience to Internet-enabled TVs.

Light Reading Cable talked about everything from March Madness to TV Everywhere in a chat with Kint on Wednesday:

Light Reading Cable: Would you eventually like to replicate the March Madness On Demand experience on cable, offering multiple feeds on TV and adding some interactivity to the mix?

Kint: You certainly could. It seems we’re getting to a point where it’s accelerating in the last year, where TVs become more Internet-friendly. There are a whole range of products that we’re looking at closely.

Light Reading Cable: What does TV Everywhere, and the concept of cable networks and operators authenticating which subscribers should have access to paid content, mean for CBS?

Kint: TV Everywhere and the concept and the way it’s being executed is a good thing. It’s critical that it be as consumer friendly as possible, that it be open and non-exclusive in the way that it works, which is something that rings true with March Madness On Demand. The way we’ve built the product -- we’ve had it open, we’ve made it non-exclusive. We allow folks like Yahoo and ESPN and YouTube to link into it and to be a part of it.

It’s critical that we’re able to measure the audience. It’s certainly critical to us and our advertisers. There has to be a really good way to measure the TV Everywhere audience consistent with the way that we measure TV.

If that’s true, we’re certainly interested in continuing the development there and finding partnerships that recognize the value of CBS content.

Light Reading Cable: We’re seeing more major sports focus on distributing live video on the Web. Will more viewers shift from TV to the Web?

Kint: As the rights agreements come up and there are opportunities to unlock digital distribution, you’re only going to see more and more video available online. It’s hard to compare the trends of digital and TV for too long. Over time, they’re just distribution outlets, and segmenting based on mobile device and laptops on WiFi versus Ethernet hooked up to the back of your television -- it starts to get tricky. You’re going to see more and more people watching live sports, as you have been for many years.

Light Reading Cable: Any new technology to deliver MMOD this year?

Kint: On the March Madness On Demand Player, the one thing that is significant -- we’ll have both Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash as options. Last year was Silverlight, and we had Windows Media Player as an option. This year we’re also offering the Flash option, just recognizing that people will have a preference for technology, and we want to make sure regardless of your preference and your platform that you’re able to enjoy the tournament as easily as possible.

Light Reading Cable: How do think MMOD traffic and ad revenue will compare to last year?

Kint: Ad revenue, the market is looking good. I think we’ll hold specifics until closer to the tournament. It’s a high-quality product and it’s the NCAA Tournament, and it’s live... for video, live video and the demand that goes with it and the excitement that goes with it is significant compared to on-demand.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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