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CBS’ Madness: Sharing the Wealth or Going With the Flow?

Mar 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

CBS’ decision to let other programming providers show March Madness games and highlights may not seem so mad after all.
CBS, which will broadcast the NCAA basketball tournament from today’s first round through the national championship game on April 7, has agreements to let five of the six largest U.S. cable companies and No. 2 satellite service Dish Network show free video-on-demand game highlights in high definition.
CBS Sports and its College Sports Network unit will produce highlights for all 63 games in addition to packaging historical footage from games such as upset championship victories by North Carolina State in 1983 and Villanova in 1985.
Additionally, U.S. satellite-television leader DirecTV has an agreement with CBS to show all 63 games on four of DirecTV’s channels, including 37 games in HD. DirecTV is charging $69 for the service, which “continues to meet our expectations,” company spokesman Robert Mercer said. He declined to say how many of DirecTV’s 17 million subscribers signed up.
All told, about 65 million cable subscribers will have access to the VOD highlights, more than triple the TV audience of last year’s championship game pitting Florida State against Ohio State. In addition to the licensing fees that satellite and cable providers may be paying CBS, the network is likely to benefit from the wider audience from an advertising standpoint, said sports media consultant Neal Pilson. With more fans posting highlights on Web sites such as Google’s YouTube, the network also is trying to take greater control of its content, said Mr. Pilson, who negotiated CBS’ first television contract with the NCAA tournament in the early 1980s and ran CBS Sports for 14 years.
“In the old days, you would try to restrict it,” said Mr. Pilson, who didn’t know how much CBS is being paid in licensing fees. “Now, liberalization is the way to grow. There’s more money to be made in getting the widest possible audience to your event.”
Indeed, CBS is trying to further boost exposure of the tournament, whose championship game attracted about 20 million U.S. viewers last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. That represented an 11% increase from the previous year’s final game but is far short of both the 98 million people who watched this year’s Super Bowl and the NCAA Finals’ record 35 million who saw Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the 1979 championship.
The highlights package, which will total between three and four hours combined for the 63 games, “enhances our value in the eyes of a very important customer base,” said Bob Rose, executive VP of distribution for CBS College Sports Network, who declined to disclose financial specifics of the agreements with the cable companies. “It marries great technology with an incredible sporting event.”

4 Comments

  1. CBS Sports has been the network leader in innovative, thorough and exciting coverage of NCAA Basketball for years with good reason. Executive Producer Eric Mann and his producing team have had an internal glow and personal involvement from day one. Added exposure for their great work can only enhance the franchise and the sport. Reads like a Win-Win to me.
    Peter Bright

  2. Only one thing would improve the CBS-NCAA package…More Games & Broadcasts. I agree with Bright, a “Win-Win”.

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