Hoop Streams: March Madness On Demand sets standard for online sports; MLBAM helps out

By Carl Lindemann
SVG Digital Media correspondent

Last year CBS Sportsline’s March Madness on Demand (MMOD) online streamcast for out-of-market games switched over from a paid subscription service to an advertising model. The changeover was a success, and this year’s initial indications show that this will likely set the standard for online distribution of marquee events.

In 2005, only about 25,000 subscribers paid the $19.95 for the service. Last year, 1.3 million unique users signed on some 5 million times through the 200,000 simultaneous streams available over 80 gigs of bandwidth. According to CBS Sportsline spokesperson Alex Riethmiller, last year’s numbers only hint at what’s happening this time around. Then, some 265,000 fans registered for VIP access, a sign-in process that helps to anticipate demand so that streaming provider Akamai is ready. This year, 470,000 are in the system that has been ramped up to 160 gigs of bandwidth to handle the increase.

“This doesn’t double our capacity,” says Riethmiller. “We’ve also increased the bitrate from 400Kbs to 450Kbs and increased the screen player size 50%, so we’re really just growing from 200,000 simultaneous streams to 300,000.”

Riethmiller calls this “healthy growth” but what’s far healthier is the profitability, a fact that has even the Big Chief, Leslie Moonves, crowing. In an investor conference call last week, Moonves cited a six-fold increase in profitability as ad revenues grew from $4 million to $10 million without any significant cost increases.

Nor are there any significant staff increases to handle the parallel workflow. Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) handles the production. This includes ad insertion for a completely different slate of commercials that runs in the online streams. MLBAM, too, is handling production for the halftime show sponsored by the New AT&T (Cingular). The live multicamera shoot is taking place at MLBAM’s studios featuring CBS Sportsline talent Jason Horowitz. But Horowitz isn’t simply mirroring the recap with highlights shown on the broadcast side. Instead, the MMOD is more of a thinking fan’s take with in depth conversations with coaches sharing their perspectives on the action.

Since MMOD has already shown that there’s an apparently insatiable demand for absorbing this action through various media, a new addition is out to grab those who (horrors) have to actually focus on things like work. According to Riethmiller, the new audio-only radio broadcast serves a significant audience that wants to keep up with coverage on the background audio from Westwood One. An added advantage for those who are limited to this audio-only experience is that the in-market games are not blacked out.

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