Pay Model Gives Way to Ad-Supported One for College Basketball Tournament

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- CBS Digital Media is taking its cue from a different playbook this March Madness.

While many of the digital media plays for big-ticket TV broadcasts require consumers to pony up payment, for its NCAA men’s basketball tournament coverage CBS Digital Media traded last year’s subscription-on-demand model for this year’s free, ad-supported one.

Marketers join March Madness
Last year CBS offered commercial-free video streams of the games for a price -- $19.99 for a tournament pass. This year marketers such as Marriott International, Dell, Lowe’s, General Motors Corp., Radio Shack, Staples and Procter & Gamble have signed on for what is largely hailed as a major new media experiment.

“The feeling was that people are used to getting content for free online,” said Ken Laguna, VP-ad sales for CBS Digital Media. “We believed in order to fully monetize it, it would be beneficial to open it up and make it a free based product.”

CBS Digital Media sold out of all 22 packages it had developed around March Madness. The advertisers in the online streams were offered run-of-site packages across the network of, NCAASports and, with CBS Digital Media guaranteeing a minimum number of impressions. In addition, the advertisers also get video ads embedded into the online streams of the games. In the streamed games, the online video ads will supplant the ads shown on the linear network.

Some restrictions
There are a few restrictions: CBS will stream only the first 56 games of the men’s tournament, which takes viewers up to the "Sweet Sixteen" round. Out-of-market games -- those airing on CBS in the market in which the computer’s IP address is registered -- will be blacked out.

March Madness refers to the start of the wildly popular college basketball championship season. Regular-season games end March 7, and conference title games begin soon after. Conference champs and a field of teams selected by the NCAA begins then begin tournament play.

One marketer, Staples, bought into the online version but didn’t do a buy with the linear network.

Staples' online play
“We hope to look at it as an offline model,” said Michael Turcotte, media supervisor at Beyond Interactive, which executed the buy for Staples. (Staples is also a sponsor of Fox Sports’ online March Madness bracket. In keeping with its overall campaign theme, press the “easy button” and it will automatically fill in the best picks.)

“At the end of the day we’ll say, ‘OK, how many people were watching the games and equate that to a rating,” Mr. Turcotte said. “And then back into how much was it on a GRP [gross ratings points] level. It’s a bit of shooting in the dark but we’re hoping to back into a cost per point and come in at or below what they would have spent in TV.”

CBS Digital Media has high hopes for the experiment. It’s taken to calling March Madness on Demand its Live 8 event, referring to AOL’s online broadcast of the concert, considered by many to be a watershed moment in live video streaming.

“This is going to be something we can build for the future,” Mr. Laguna said.

Most Popular
In this article: