In Depth

March Madness Digital Viewing Generates $60 Million in Ad Sales for Turner, CBS -- Total Doesn't Include Subscriptions for Mobile Access

By Jason Del Rey
Advertising Age

It's not a revenue number that's going to convince many that a long-awaited reallocation of TV dollars to digital has arrived. But the approximately $60 million that sources say Turner and CBSSports.com brought in for ad sales around digital viewing of NCAA tournament games this year is a sign of progress.

Ad sales for web streaming of March Madness has grown each year, to nearly double the $32 million sold for the 2009 tournament.

The $60 million does not include revenue from the one-time fee of $3.99 that the companies charged for March Madness Live, the product for those wanting to access every NCAA tournament game across mobile devices: online, tablets and cellphones.

A Turner spokesman declined to comment on financials.

For this year's tournament, games that were televised on CBS could be accessed for free at CBSSports.com. But viewers who wanted to get free live streams of the games carried on one of three Turner networks -- TNT, TBS and truTV -- had to log onto the appropriate network's website and authenticate themselves using log-in info for their cable, satellite or telecom account, assuming the service carries the Turner channel.

At the outset, Turner and CBS told Ad Age the subscription was intended to get cable subscribers to authenticate and that they didn't expect it to generate meaningful revenue. Turner parent company Time Warner is a proponent of the "TV Everywhere" concept, which pushes authentication for viewing on non-TV devices.

Turner said NCAA.com and March Madness Live registered 31.3 million visits across all platforms (flat with last year) from Selection Sunday through the first Sunday of tournament games. Time spent mobile streaming was up 40% year-over-year for the first two days and 36% for the first weekend of play. The company did not release details on total hours of consumption, as was the practice in the past.

CBSSports.com launched March Madness Live -- then called March Madness on Demand -- as a subscription product in 2003. It remained a paid service until 2006, when it became ad-supported. In 2011, CBS Sports and Turner began sharing coverage of games and ad-sales duties as part of a 14-year deal with the NCAA. In 2011, the first year of the deal, viewing across digital platforms remained free. But that changed this year.