March Madness: the Next Live 8?

PaidContent reports today that CBS Digital president Larry Kramer announced the network will offer all of its NCAA March Madness coverage online for free. The coverage will be ad supported, and Kramer likened it to AOLs Live 8 coverage which put its broadband video delivery on the map.

Online would seem to be a great venue for the NCAA tournament because like Live 8, there will be simultaneous events (games) happening. CBS has traditionally dealt with this issue by showing different games in different regions — using a combination of formulas and judgment, that never fails to irk a certain segment of transplanted basketball fans that want to see their alma-mater or favorite team from a different region. This is especially true during the first round of the tournament which has 64 teams playing in about 48 hours.

CBS is hoping that online coverage of such a high profile event will incite the same PR storm that AOL received post Live 8, in staking its claim as a new source of digital and interactive media.

There is a big difference here however. Live 8’s smashing success was partially because there was a dependent variable with which to compare it; MTV's lackluster coverage of the event. But in the case of March Madness, the comparison is CBS's own television coverage. So the online coverage, if successful (as successful as Live 8), could in fact make its television coverage look bad.

Every year, there are qualms about CBS's March Madness coverage some involving the game choices as mentioned above; and others such as inane commentary during and between play, and the over dramatized segments about "cinderella" teams or other inspiring stories surrounding the tournament. These are usually met with a fair share of grumblings from fans, but then are mostly forgotten until the next year. But with an online alternative that delivers just the good stuff (all games) without the fluff, CBS could be setting itself up for quite a conflict.

Indeed it was similarly overdone commentary, and choices of events to cover (i.e. cutting away from Pink Floyd mid-set) that were at the top of the long list of grievances of MTV live 8 viewers.

It will be interesting to see how CBS handles this, and what the media world can learn from broadband content delivery, and its effect on affiliated offline channels. We can only wait and see.

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