Backwards we go: cable subscription required for non-CBS games on NCAA Tournament app

For a while there, it felt like the future. All it took was one incredibly-reasonable payment and you could have access to every single NCAA Tournament game, and you could watch them on your computer or your tablet or your phone. It was remarkable: one of the biggest sporting events of the year had the most forward-thinking broadcast model. Above all, it felt like an inspiring example of the sports industry as a whole moving forward.

As it turns out, it was too good to last:

Unlike last year, when iOS viewers could make a $3.99 in-app purchase to watch all 67 games, for 2013 they are required to authenticate with their pay-tv provider logins before they can watch games that air on TBS, TNT and truTV. Games aired on CBS will not need authentication. However, users will get a four-hour 'preview' window to watch games without authenticating. Live streaming will be available over 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi.

My first thought: "OH COME ON—WHY?!?!" But then I calmed slightly, my second: "But seriously. Why?"

Here's a few reasons why I hate this:

  • They're making enough money off of advertising the way it is, they don't need to attempt to force more people to watch television in order to boost revenue on the cable side.
  • They're not seeing this model through, instead leaving money on the table with the app. Previous iterations of the NCAA March Madness Live app cost $3.99. That's all. For half the price of a good sandwich you could watch every single NCAA Tournament game from practically anywhere. How much could they raise the price of this and still retain 75 percent of their viewership? I'd say the over-under line is somewhere around $20, or a 400 percent increase in price.
  • It's bad for social. As the screenshots give away, social will be a big part of the March Madness Live app in 2013. Not only will there be "Social Arena" displaying tweets relevant to your game, but the app will also display what moments in the game generated the most discussion:

    Why would you want to hinder, in any way, viewers ability to discuss the game through Twitter and elsewhere? Viewers are most likely to tweet from their computer, phone or tablet—you should be doing everything you can to have them watching it there too.
  • There's no way around it: less people will watch. Can you imagine how many people will go to work on Thursday expecting to be able to watch the opening round from there online, and then be sent scrambling for their cable provider logins? It'll be a lot, and I'm sure more than a few just won't be able to watch the games at all because they can't track that info down. Remember, the NCAA Tournament is watched away from home more than any other sporting event. That's why the model made so much sense before.
  • Turner's being obnoxious because they can—it won't accomplish anything. This takes all of a couple seconds to think through: if you can watch the game on TV, if you have the opportunity to—won't you? Of course you will. No one's actively choosing a phone or even a tablet over a 50" TV if they have the choice. And the second part: is Turner or whoever's behind this expecting cord-cutters to suddenly pony up for a cable package because now they can't watch the games online? It isn't happening. Here's the three most recent reviews for the app:

This is going to be interesting to watch in the years to come. The NCAA March Madness Live app is the second such cord-cutter-enabling platform to retreat back on its ways as ESPN gouged ESPN3 of quality programming in the past year or two, pushing more people to the WatchESPN app instead.

At this point, I believe almost everyone agrees that the cable television model as we see it today will cease to exist in the relatively-near future. It will eventually be replaced by more a la carte programming and models similar to what NCAA March Madness Live used to be. All it takes is just one provider, one sport or one event to show everyone that with the proper execution this model will work. For a while I thought it'd be the NCAA Tournament, but now we'll have to look for the next innovator to give it a proper opportunity.

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