March Madness Live Continues To Mature, Expands to More Devices

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament may be a month-long frenzy for most Americans, but, for the team behind March Madness Live, the event’s TV Everywhere authenticated digital platform, it’s a year-round obsession.

Not long after Louisville claimed the crown last April, work began in earnest on this year’s edition of the app, which features a bevy of upgrades and added device availability. Most notably, this year marks the first time that the app is available at Amazon Appstore for Android and Kindle Fire tablets.

Mark Johnson, Vice President of Business Operations at Turner Sports, is one of the driving forces behind March Madness Live.

Turner Sports’ Mark Johnson is one of the driving forces behind March Madness Live.

“We talked with Google really early this year and got out ahead of it,” says Mark Johnson, VP of business operations at Turner Sports, which, along with the NCAA and CBS Sports, designed the app. “We worked together to work through the different sizes and dynamics of each tablet. The only way we could do it is if we started it really early.”

Johnson says the executive team hammered out its business-model strategy for the 2014 version of MML by last June. Then, the Quality Control (QC) Department began penciling out some modifications and getting a head start on custom-designing layouts for new devices.

In addition, the designers lean heavily on the User Experience (UX) Team to help guide their sketches. UX specialists point out everything from where a navigation bar should be to how best to guide the user into live game action.

MML is already available on all Apple iOS devices, and it was announced earlier this year that the app has been added to the Windows store. With games in the First Four beginning Tuesday night, the app is poised for another outstanding showing. In 2013, the app took a massive leap forward, pulling in more than 14 million hours of streaming usage. In the meantime, the television product notched its highest ratings in 15 years.

All 67 NCAA Tournament games will stream via March Madness Live.

All 67 NCAA Tournament games will be streamed via March Madness Live.

“There really isn’t a push-pull [between the two],” says Johnson. “We just continue to see these devices rise at the same time that TV rises, because there are so many devices and so many people have two or three of them now. The cool thing about this app is that it can be a primary source and a secondary source at the same time.”

The rise in use can also be attributed to the consumer market’s growing familiarity with authentication of digital content via one’s cable provider.

Consumers will have access to all games on TNT, TBS, and truTV on the digital device of their choice by logging in with the user name and password given to them by their TV service provider. As an added feature, March Madness Live offers a temporary preview period of three hours (last year, it was four hours) giving fans access to live game streaming before a login is required. CBS games do not require a login.

“With tent-pole events like the Olympics and different platforms like WatchESPN that are all authenticated, users are getting used to the process,” says Johnson. “Our event has a very casual user, at least through the early part of the tournament, so there still are some people that just haven’t gotten it yet. They are going to look and expect to just see their game.”

The Social Side
This year marks the return of the Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena, but it comes with some major enhancements.

This year's Social Arena includes Instagram and Vie to go along with its usual Twitter widget.

This year’s Social Arena includes Instagram and Vine to go along with its usual Twitter widget.

Designed as a forum for extending the conversation surrounding the games and increase engagement, previous editions of the Social Arena were highly driven by Twitter content. Johnson acknowledges that, at a point, too much Twitter “just becomes noise.” This year’s version adds Instgram and Vine widgets while encouraging fans to “Tweet Off” measuring which team is generating more social buzz.

Fans can participate in the social commentary by using the hashtag #marchmadness.

Much of the social content is moderated by a small team of experts in Turner’s Operations Center in Atlanta working in coordination with a crew of students from Ball State University’s Ball State Sports Link. This marks the fourth straight year that Sports Link students will assist in monitoring social content while also using Snappy TV to build a social timeline of in-game highlights for each matchup.

Leveraging NCAA.com To Enrich Content
For the first time, fans will have access to the latest tournament news and updates as well as additional information each day throughout the Championship — directly via March Madness Live.

The news feature adds to the breadth of the app, making it more than just a source of streamed games.

“We felt that, on off-days, there wasn’t enough reason to come back to the product. So, on a Monday morning, if you want to see scores and what people are talking about, you can do that here now, whereas you might have decided to go to another sports site or app. For these 20 or so days, come here. You can get everything you want.”