CBS Enhances Popular March Madness On Demand

March Madness On Demand (MMOD), one of the most successful streaming events in the world, will include even more on-demand features for the 2010 edition of the product. This year’s player will again offer a standard version of the video player, with the option to upgrade to an enhanced video stream. For the first time, though, Adobe Flash will be used along with Microsoft Silverlight. In addition, picture-in-picture highlights will be available inside the high-quality player, and both flavors will offer the ability to add statistical overlays.

“We’ll be back with Silverlight for the high-quality player, but we’ll be using Flash for the first time for the standard player,” says Jason Kint, SVP/GM of CBSSports.com. “We’ve got the best of both worlds here.”

When fans open the player, it will default to the standard 550-kbps stream, and then viewers will have the opportunity to upgrade to the high-quality player, powered by Silverlight, which offers streams of up to 1.8 Mbps.

“That will be 300 Mbps higher of a bitrate than last year, so you’ll get much better quality,” Kint says. “The high-quality player will also use smooth adaptive streaming for the first time.”

The IIS Smooth Streaming technology automatically adjusts the video stream to a user’s optimal bitrate, based on connection speed, to deliver the best-quality experience possible.

On-Demand Data
This year’s player will give fans the option to add statistical overlays on top of the live video, including up-to-date tournament and game leaders in points, assists, rebounds, three-pointers, and more.

“You’ll be able to add dropdowns of stats real-time in the game while you’re watching,” Kint explains. “We’ll also have picture-in-picture highlights, not just of the game you’re watching but other games that are going on, in real time.”

The picture-in-picture highlights will be available only through the Silverlight high-quality player, but every fan will have access to the statistical overlays.

An Open-Platform Layup
CBSSports.com’s open Developer Platform allows sites from across the Web to link directly into the MMOD player. The network of sites participating in the platform this year includes CNN.com, ESPN.com, Facebook, CNET.com, GameSpot.com, and others.

“It’s once again a completely open platform,” Kint says, “so we expect to get a lot of traffic from across the Web.”

Keeping that traffic on the MMOD site will be the ever-popular Boss Button. The button, which opens an official-looking spreadsheet on top of the video, was clicked more than 2.77 million times during the 2009 tournament and has been redesigned for 2010. The new image will be unveiled on March 14, before the Selection Show on CBS Sports, which will also stream live on MMOD.

Looking for a New Record
In 2009, MMOD logged 7.52 million unique visitors, a 58% increase over 2008 figures. Kint is positive that 2010 will surpass those marks. “I’m highly confident that we’ll continue to break records as we become once again the biggest live-streaming event on the Internet. In the hours leading up to that first tipoff, when you know you’re going to break another record for the Internet, there’s an adrenaline rush like you can’t believe. We will eclipse the 7.5 million people that watched last year.”

MMOD 24/7
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the only major sporting event broadcast live in its entirety for free on the Internet, and it’s a full-time job for Kint and his team.

“After we review the previous year’s tournament, we take a few months to breathe, and then we start planning,” Kint explains. “We do focus groups, usability testing, quantitative research. We’re constantly trying to get the pulse of what’s most important to sports fans, more than just what’s the coolest trick we can come up with.”

CBS works with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) on video encoding and commercial insertion, and Akamai serves as the MMOD distribution network. The operations and engineering team for CBSSports.com is located in Florida, and Kint will be on-site during the tournament to make sure everything goes as planned.

“Just in Florida, there are more than 100 people that morning that are focused on the opening tipoff,” he says. “It’s live video, it’s great content. It really is the sweet spot for everything that can happen with the Internet right now.”