CBS.COM’s March Madness Becomes a Free-For-All

By Carl Lindemann

After six month’s preparation, CBS Sports CTO Mark Kortekaas
is ready for March Madness that is expected to bring record audiences online
for the event. This year, March Madness on Demand’s (MMOD) capacity has been ramped
up almost 50% from last year. The system will be able to handle up to
500,000 simultaneous viewers, up from the previous 350,000. What’s driving
these expectations? For the first time, visitors will be able to access
content without any registration.

“The logic is to increase the overall audience. By making it
simpler, easier, opens this up to get more audience,” says Kortekaas.

Does the online audience steal from the broadcast viewership? According to CBS
research, these are additional eyeballs. Many are people watching at places
where they only have internet access, others are “two-screen” viewers enhancing
their experience of the broadcast product.

“This continues the growth curve we’ve seen before. We continue to modify and
improve our product, make it better, and the year-after-year growth has been
great,” Kortekaas says.

Alongside the anticipated audience growth is MMOD’s growth in advertising
revenue. This year’s $21 million is more than twice last year’s. Such success
is, in part, what’s driving the change to opening the gates to non-paying,
non-registered visitors. It is interesting to note that this is very much a
traditional broadcast business model – free access paid for by advertising
dollars.

Does this point to the future of the online media business? More likely, this
is an indication of MMOD’s singular success. The audience for March Madness is
insatiable, and whatever conventional wisdom there is for managing online media
does not apply. How does CBS Sports succeed in turning MMOD into a
free-for-all? Stay tuned.