CBS embraces multimedia March Madness

True March Madness addicts are in for a treat next week as CBS Sports rolls out a free live streaming video service for 56 games and mobile video clips for Cingular subscribers.

For the past two years CBS has offered an online subscription service for basketball fans that wanted to see all of the games. This year CBS is moving to an advertising-supported free service.

The fastest growing segment of advertising is on the Internet and our thought was if there ever was a property that was custom made for free streaming video is the NCAA tournament, says Sean McManus, president CBS News and Sports. We had a pretty successful couple of years charging for the product but our thinking is if you take the advertising demand on this side and take the fact that we will get enormous amount of interest in the first couple of days there is a lot more money and revenue to be generated than with the subscription model.

MLB.com is providing some of the backend functionality, helping ready the content for distribution over Internet servers from Akamai and other providers. CBS Sports expects to break some streaming records, particularly on March 16 and 17, and it has put some safe guards in place to give visitors an enjoyable experience.

Topping the list? A virtual waiting room has been created for those who can t access a stream. One of the problems with streaming video services in the past (particularly AOL s Live 8 and Victoria Secret fashion shows) is that when visitors to a site are denied access they tend to try again and again and again, compounding the problem.

The virtual waiting room is designed to prevent that, giving visitors a number so they know exactly when they ll be gaining access. They ll also have access to other material, like scoreboards and highlights, to pass they time.

March Madness will also extend to cellphones. On Sunday night, following the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, CBS will produce original video segments for Cingular s mobile video service that analyze the brackets and also give an overall analysis of the tournament. And during the tournament it will send out game highlights.

We have a virtual studio at CBS Sportsline where we ll take in feeds from the games, shoot a quick studio segment, and then send it over in XML format to Cingular, says Joe Ferreira, CBS Digital Media VP programming and executive producer. Cingular will then take it through their system and get it out to their subscribers.

There will also be a wireless component to the online bracket companion so that Cingular subscribers can see how they are doing in their office pool from their cellphone. But the focus is on live streaming, says Ferreira.

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