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.

Five reasons why the 2010 NCAA Tournament is the biggest event in the history of social media

 

Everyone has their own unique preferences when determining which sporting event is the greatest. Many people prefer the Super Bowl, other traditionalists believe the Fall Classic is the best event in sport while I'm sure there's more than a few odd individuals who think that title should go to the Daytona 500. The debate is impossible to settle but it'd be difficult for anyone to refute the uniqueness and spectacle of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 65 teams, single elimination, an endless number of storylines.

Going beyond all of that: the Big Dance is tailor-made for the era of Twitter, Facebook and blogging, much more than any other sport. That, combined with the timing, will make this year's Dance the biggest event in the history of social media. Quite the claim, I know, but here's five reasons why it could be.

  1. Social brackets. Yes, Facebook can take care of all your bracket needs. This isn't anything new, these were available four year agos, put out by Facebook itself, and sponsors took the idea and ran with it. CBS has its own 'App' on there. Now why is this important? It makes an already somewhat painless process even easier. Now, it may be easy for the sports junkie in your pool to sign onto Yahoo and fill out a bracket but Suzy from sales and your sister Beth need something a little easier. With Facebook, it's easy to fill out and simple to track as the tournament progresses because you're already logging on there everyday anyway. The more people filling out brackets, the more people who have a rooting interest in every game. And of course, that means more people talking about it.
  2. Free online video. It's impossible to overstate how big of an issue this is. NBC, take notice. This will be the most talked about sporting event of the year, undoubtedly one of the most valuable commodities in broadcasting, and CBS is giving it away for free. From a technology and media coverage standpoint, this is the foundation for the tournament's outrageous popularity. Plain and simple, people can't become raving fans (of the tournament itself, not any particular team) without being able to see it. With the timing of the event, and most people being at work, CBS has found a way to bring the content to the viewers instead of forcing the viewers to come to the content.
  3. The 'watercooler'. This is, by far, the biggest reason why the Big Dance will be bigger in the world of social media than other live events. So far, live events like the Super Bowl and Oscars have received their highest ratings in years and the conversation taking place on social media may be largely to blame. Now, examine those two events. They take place on the weekends and are often watched in a social setting. The tournament is different. Millions of people sitting at work, already on their computers, will tune-in online for free. So access to discussion is no longer limited to anyone who felt the need to pick up their laptop while watching from the couch, everyone is already on their computer, talking about their bracket, getting news from other games and, hell, they may even be checking out what Simmons has to say.
  4. Sponsors are catching on. It's no longer a secret, social media+live sports=ratings bonanza. Obviously, there's money to be made here and the sponsors are looking to take advantage of that. Marketers have tried to take advantage of this social media/sports combo in the past but they've had time to refine their approach. So not only will fans already be at their computers, sponsors will be attempting to drive them towards using social media. Could lead to even more discussion.
  5. The players/teams are all on it. The 2010 NCAA Tournament will have the highest percentage of athletes on social media than any other major sport. This isn't a definitive fact, but think about it: 90% of college athletes have Facebook and a significant portion which are jumping on Twitter as well. Unlike professional atheletes, a majority of these athletes do not have endoresments to worry about, they don't have a significant amount of media training. Now, this could be the ingredients for disaster, but it could also bring an unprecedented level of access. Last week, after Wofford advanced to the tournament for the first time ever, I congratulated their point guard Cameron Rundles, who I covered at Montana before he transferred. Shortly after, I heard back. It's not much, but it's a new level of access and interaction. Now, you'll also see inhouse media staffs armed with Flip cameras take advantage as well. Brace for a full-on social media blitz from adept teams as the tournament progresses.

Now, it's difficult to see what impact this will have on how sports are covered but it will be very interesting to watch as social media gradually becomes an integral part of how sports are discussed and covered. Online, the NCAA Tournament will be bigger than the Super Bowl, the Oscars or any Apple presser. Enjoy.