March Madness Live Brings Tournament Everywhere With Optimized Video Quality
The biggest week of the biggest month in basketball is here. From Thursday to Sunday, arenas will be filled, buzzers will be beaten, and American work productivity will drop precipitously. This year, fans will be hard-pressed to find some place they won’t be able to stay on top of all of the action at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this month.
This year’s “on-the-go” product, March Madness Live features many notable changes: the addition of Android devices, a significantly more robust social-media content, the ability to clip and share live game video, and free live radio for every game of the tournament.
Formerly March Madness on Demand, March Madness Live is a suite of live products offered across multiple platforms for $3.99: online, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and selected Android smartphones over WiFi and 3G/4G. Fans can download NCAA March Madness Live from the Apple App store; the Android app can be purchased in the new Google Play store.
“I have to say — and I don’t know if I would have said this so confidently last year — we got an awful lot right last year,” says Michael Adamson, VP of new products and services at Turner Sports. “It was great to have that as a starting point going into this tournament.”
Technologically, the addition of the Android platform, whose operating system is yet to introduce a native video player, was the marquee factor to tackle for the product-development team.
“With the Android introduction, that certainly posed some additional challenges for us, because we had to start working with a new player,” says Adamson. “I’m very happy with how the Android player profiles in the overall video step looks and performs on several of the devices.”
Aside from that, much of the content is being delivered in very much the same way using similar technology as a year ago. From a video-encoding standpoint, Adamson says, much was learned about playlist formats, the encoding profiles, and the server architecture, which was used again this year.
March Madness Live’s Game Center View provides fans with a control center at their fingertips for live in-game stats, live social features, and access to live game radio and video. The Turner team has done some video optimization for this year’s product, increasing the bitrate and quality of broadband video.
“We were watching the broadband video on 42-in. monitors in our operations center, and, next to the TV, it looks like [broadcast] TV,” says Adamson. “It looks terrific.”
When attacking differences between watching video in an embedded player versus full screen, Adamson notes, the development team spent a lot of time perfecting the quality of video at the full-screen state. Last year, on the broadband product, native Flash scaling was used. That was effective for people who wanted to go full screen, but, depending on the screen size, it didn’t always make the best use of scaling.
“This year, we are doing scaling on a numerical equivalent,” he explains. “Video always scales at a factor of four, so we’re applying that. So, regardless of the screen you’re on when you scale it to full screen, it still sticks to a certain aspect ratio that is managed to that factor-of-four rule, and it actually looks better full screen. That comes from better optimization on the scaling.”
Increased Social-Media Content
Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena gives viewers the opportunity to extend the conversation beyond the broadcast.
New this year, features will be live across the entire NCAA March Madness suite of products and, for the first time, let fans grab key game moments and share them from a computer. Additional social features include social commentary from other fans and live tournament-trivia games.
Coke Zero NCAA March Madness Social Arena will extend onto Facebook — offering a complete video gallery of all fan-grabbed moments, complete access to specially aggregated Twitter feeds of all 68 teams, a uniquely visualized bracket view of the loudest fans, and more. Fans will also have multiple ways — via social media — to be heard, stay informed, and engage with rivals or other team enthusiasts:
On Twitter, fans can follow @marchmadnessTV, which serves as the official home of March Madness TV, providing game updates, tipoff times, breaking-news alerts, and channel details from all the game action on TBS, TNT, truTV, and CBS. @marchmadness serves as the official NCAA account, offering behind-the-scenes access at tournament games and events. On Facebook, fans can like NCAA Men’s Basketball March Madness to unlock special video content, behind-the-scenes photos, and more.