CBS Doubles March Madness Video Bandwidth

The Memphis Tigers bench cheer on their team in the final minutes of the game against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles during the First Round of the 2006 NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship Tournament on March 17, 2006 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

While CBS Corp. is doubling the amount of bandwidth available for viewing NCAA tournament games this year, it will still restrict the number of viewers to keep the system running smoothly.

The video streams proved very popular last year. CBS is also beefing up the image quality for the video and making the online video player larger, which will take up some of the added bandwidth.

Joe Ferreira, the vice president of programming at CBS SportsLine, says the site is aiming to accommodate up to 300,000 viewers at any given time, up from around 175,000 simultaneous viewers last year.

Once that limit is reached, fans will be diverted to online "waiting rooms" until enough other users leave to allow new ones in.

CBS has been offering online viewing of the NCAA basketball games since 2003, but this is only the second year that they will be offered for free and supported with advertising. In previous years, fans had to pay for a subscription to view the games.

Steve Snyder, chief operating officer of CBS's digital media unit, said 2006 was a "year of learning" for selling advertising during the games. This year, CBS has a tighter grasp of how much ad time will be available and how to sell it, Snyder said.

Showing the NCAA games online is starting to turn into a real business for CBS. With as many as four different games being played simultaneously during the early rounds of the tournament, offering video streams over the Internet allows CBS another way to make money.

In order to keep their affiliated stations happy, however, CBS has to observe local "blackout" rules that prevent Internet users in a given area from watching a game online that is already appearing on their local CBS-affiliated station. That prevents users and advertising dollars from being leeched away.

There are a total of 56 such "out-of-market" games during the first three rounds of the tournament, but after accounting for the blackout rules most viewers would have a choice of about 37 games, CBS said.

CBS took in about $4 million in online advertising from the games last year, and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves told investors last month that the company expects to double those revenues and increase profits sixfold, but he didn't provide an exact profit figure.

The Hartford, a financial services company, has signed up to buy ads online for the first time this year, though the company declined to say how much it's spending.

"As consumers change their media consumption habits, we're constantly looking for ways to get our message in front of them," said Michael Johnson, vice president of advertising at The Hartford.

Only the first three rounds of play are being offered online, with many of the games concentrated during the afternoons of Thursday the 15th and Friday the 16th.

Ferreira calls those times a "sweet spot" for video streaming since many fans will still be at work, often with access to the high-speed Internet connections required to watch the video.

Borrowing a trick from computer games, CBS will offer a "Boss" button on the player that viewers can hit if they see their supervisor coming, which causes a fake spreadsheet to pop up and silences the audio feed.

The ruse could backfire, however, if bosses take the time to actually read the items listed on the spreadsheet, which purports to list, among other things, the millions of pounds of pizza, peanuts and other snack foods, including sushi, that were consumed while watching sporting events in 2006.

As for whether CBS will be encouraging slacking off at work, "employees and employers across the country are going to make individual decisions about what they do," Ferreira says. "We think it's a great perk."

In case some employers disagree, CBS does explain in a Q&A page on its Web site how companies can block online access to the video player.
  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.