March Madness Afflicts 4.3 Million Online Users During Tourney Run for CBS Sports

By Carl Lindemann

CBSSports.com chief Jason Kint was excited about an anticipated 50% jump in online viewership for this year’s March Madness this year. So how does he feel now that the numbers far exceed what once seemed like optimistic projections? “We’ve seen a two-and-a-half times growth in viewership over last year, and it is accelerating,” he says. “It’s been consistent, just bigger across the board than expected,” adds Kint. “It’s also sustained consumption. We didn’t see short pops of usage with people checking it out then leaving.”

According to CBSSports.com stats, the total minutes of live streaming during the first eight days of the tournament was nearly 4.6 million total hours, better than the entire media consumption from 2007. This amounted to more than 4.3 million unique visitors coming to the March Madness on Demand (MMOD) video player, a 147% growth over last year. “We’d have done even better if Easter hadn’t fallen right in the middle of the tournament,” says Kint.

At-work viewing has been the core of Kint’s success with workers tapping in at the office. This is a totally different audience than the TV viewers. In other words, the online eyeballs, by and large, do not take away from the broadcast audience. The telltale sign of this win-win? The online numbers drop significantly, by approximately 50%, after working hours. Also, the infamous “Boss Button” that brings up a faux spreadsheet to give cover has been clicked almost 2.5 millions times. Still, for all the office viewing, Kint has not received a single call complaining and asking how to block streams.

“I’m not so naïve to believe that some companies aren’t blocking it, but we’ve posted detailed directions and that seems to have resolved the issue,” he says.

This year’s no registration policy and widespread access through other websites has also been key making MMOD easy to find and to access.

One of the most impressive discoveries from the stats is the steady, solid consumption of MMOD content.

This “stickiness” on the online audience came clear in the average streaming time for the Elite Eight on March 29 and 30. The average visitor stayed turned in for more than 32 minutes, a new high watermark from last year.

For all the growth, the final figures aren’t in, nor is the research looking for ways to outdo a banner year. Some of what’s on the radar is the improved bitrate. Are the consumers getting the quality they want online given the arrival of the HDTV era?

Whatever improvements lie ahead for MMOD, it will remain an addition, not a replacement, for the traditional broadcast.

“Our mission, working closely with leadership from Sean McManus on down, is to create an experience that adds to our numbers without cannibalizing the broadcast audience,” said Kint.