NCAA Goes Backwards On Streaming The Basketball Tournament

from the same-service,-now-for-a-fee! dept

If anyone has gotten the streaming sports thing right in the past, it's been NCAA Basketball. I've actually pointed to them as an example in the past of how the rest of the sporting world should embrace streaming their games and advertise the hell out of the experience. Rather than locking down access to viewership, like the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL, the NCAA Basektball Tournament got it right, partnering with broadcasters to stream the games to their sites free of charge, with all the advertising one would expect on television. It was a wonderful method for ensuring that one of my monitors at work had their games on. It made it certain that I'd be that weird guy staring at images on his phone while taking the train home from work. It confused my neighbors as to how I could somehow simultaneously grill steaks on my deck while announcers went ballistic over last second hail mary shots as time ran out on the clock. I was engaged (sorry Mom and Dad, I mean engaged to the game).

And now they've taken that all away from me. To be fair, they're still streaming the games. And they promise that the streams will work across multiple platforms (computer, iPad, iPhone, Android devices, etc.). And it only costs $4.99 for the entire tournament.

But that's where the lie in all this is. It's not just $4.99 to watch the tournament on every device other than my television (where it's FREE!). There are serious mental transactions to consider here. Like most red-blooded Americans, I'm in an NCAA office bracket. Something like half the games in the tournament take place during work hours across the country. Most of us don't have televisions at our desks, in our cubicles, wherever. Watching at work is kind of the whole point here, with all the ducking and dodging from our bosses we have to do as a result. Now, we can argue all we want whether watching the tourney at work is productive or a good idea, but from the NCAA's standpoint, they shouldn't care at all. They should want people to watch. Asking them to pay $4.99 to do all of this is a massive fail, particularly since all of those same advertisements that were in place remain.

So...they're charging for something that used to be free...without adding any benefit. I watched the games on their feeds the past couple of years. This year, not so much. The obvious question is does the money they're making from the $4.99/subscriber outweigh the eyeballs that are no longer watching the advertising because of that cost. Maybe those in the comments can change my mind, but I'm fairly certain there's more folks like me out there than people buying the "package".


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Jay (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:07pm

    Why do I have this image of a Helmeted Vader doing spins and jukes as Palpatine sends bolts for slacking off at work?

     

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  2.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:20pm

    Re:

    I remember that game! The last 2 minutes were amazing!!

     

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  3.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm my own Cinderella story!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:39pm

    Have you ever considered the possibility that the reason they changed was because they coudldn't find advertisers? You just assume that the advertisers were lining up like before but because there are more entertainment options for advertising there is more competition for avertising dollars. And I personally am growing tired of all the damned ads all over every single web page and every phone ap. I am willing to part with money to stop the ads, I feel like life has become one big commercial.

     

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  5.  
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    Jasonq, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:39pm

    I got this

    Well I thought the value was good enough. Although I think you got the price wrong, I paid 3.99 for it.

    I think the value is fine. The interface is nice and the boss button provides a semi-functional webmail interface so you can even appear to be working by closing windows and switching e-mails ( they really put some effort into it ).

    The reason I got this is that I really wanted to see an early round game on a channel that was not in my cable package.

    That being said, after this weekend goes by, I don't think the value of this service will still be $3.99. I would't want to pay that.

    But this could be much much worse. Major league baseball turns the screws on their online viewers. Their prices are obscene. What is really insulting is that in the post season, if you want to view a game you still have to pay the full regular season price for the streaming. Horrible customer service.

    I think the NCAA is still doing this very well. $3.99 is a reasonable charge for the value here. I'm sure a good chunk of money went into developing the streaming apps for the mobile devices, which are free once you have the service.

    That does bring to mind an alternative. I wonder how they would have done if they'd have left browser viewing free, but charged for the apps....?

     

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  6.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:42pm

    Re:

    The numbers for the tournament in terms of viewership have only gone up. Why would they suddenly have an issue finding advertisers?

     

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  7.  
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    BeachBumCowboy (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:43pm

    Loaded with Junk

    In addition with the problems of paying, the apps from one platform are not comparable. I have both the iPad app as well as the Android app for my phone.

    You would think the iPad app would be more useful because of the larger screen. But no, I have switched totally over to my phone, which is actually less convenient for me. The iPad app screen space is loaded with chats, scores, and other non-useful info to me. They shove the actual video of the game into an iddy-biddy spot in the middle of the screen. I thought for sure I would be able to expand the video to fill my screen, but no such luck.

    Using my Android app, I get to watch the video, and the video alone, on my phones screen which equates to a bigger picture. So that's what I do, even though the app does not run nearly as well on the Android platform. You would think the NCAA would want to enable me to watch on whatever platform I find the most convenient and useful. But no, I have to choose between two mediocre experiences because they want to control things.

     

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  8.  
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    Indy, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    Wow...

    A rare Disagree with TD on this one. Our office ponied up the money, and invited all staff into conference rooms to watch while supplying lunch.

    Half of the staff already had paid up the money to watch both at their desks AND at home, and they said it was a great deal they were all happy to pay for.

     

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  9.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:46pm

    Re: I got this

    "I think the value is fine. The interface is nice and the boss button provides a semi-functional webmail interface so you can even appear to be working by closing windows and switching e-mails ( they really put some effort into it )."

    All of this is the same as last year, when it was free.

    "But this could be much much worse. Major league baseball turns the screws on their online viewers. Their prices are obscene. What is really insulting is that in the post season, if you want to view a game you still have to pay the full regular season price for the streaming. Horrible customer service."

    Again, that's all true, but if you're focused on gaining eyeballs (which they should be), this should all be free with advertising. NBC Sports does them one better by offering the stream for free and actually having a couple of their personalities (one sports journalist and one comedy guy) on a live chat stream at the same time, which gives users a reason to go to that official stream and engage.

    "I think the NCAA is still doing this very well. $3.99 is a reasonable charge for the value here. I'm sure a good chunk of money went into developing the streaming apps for the mobile devices, which are free once you have the service."

    Amazing how the illicit cites can provide all this for free, but the NCAA and CBS somehow can't....

    "That does bring to mind an alternative. I wonder how they would have done if they'd have left browser viewing free, but charged for the apps....?"

    Same problem. The idea is eyeballs, not tiny payments for apps....

     

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  10.  
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    Steve, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    Not a massive fail

    Am I disappointed that the free streaming is gone? Sure. But this is not a massive fail. The $3.99 is reasonable, IMHO.

    This is something that ESPN should take note of. I would happily pay a reasonable fee for streaming of their ESPN3 service. Now, in order to get ESPN3 Streaming, I have to have ESPN from my cable provider. That costs $42/month for the least expensive package that includes ESPN! I don't watch hardly any of the other channels, and I only want ESPN for my college team. It isn't worth it.

    Free is good, but so is reasonable. Right now, the other streaming options have unreasonable restrictions, or are low-quality/illegal.

     

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  11.  
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    johaus (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    Re:

    I'm confused. Are you saying CBS/NCAA should/are adding ads to the streaming app. I think the point of the article is, if you simply stream the existing live feed, then the users will be seeing the ads already purchased. If not for backwards tracking methods, those streaming viewers would only increase the numbers for the tournament.

    I also understand the problem with local ads being sold to local affiliates. But, why can't the stream interject local ads based on IP adress? Even if IP addresses aren't perfect, it would be better than nothing. Or in the alternative, sell those unaffiliated ads separately.

     

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  12.  
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    PlagueSD (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:51pm

    So...they're charging for something that used to be free...without adding any benefit.
    ...
    ...
    Something like half the games in the tournament take place during work hours across the country. Most of us don't have televisions at our desks, in our cubicles, wherever. Watching at work is kind of the whole point


    I usually don't disagree on here, but you answered your concern in your post. Umm, the added benefit would be the fact that we can now watch the game at our desk at work.

     

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  13.  
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    johaus (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Wow...

    But the question in the article is, how many more eyeballs would be on in the middle of the day if the streaming was free? And would that offset the revenue from the app?
    The additional follow-up, but unasked, question should be, even if they are increasing their revenue, how does the choice to charge effect the relationship with the fans?

     

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  14.  
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    Joseph Antaree (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Ads

    There is a browser extension called AdBlock for most browsers. It blocks all ads on the web. Huge relief. Check it out. Cheers!

     

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  15.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You were playing out of your mind that game!

     

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  16.  
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    johaus (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:55pm

    Re:

    The point was people could watch at their desks for free last year. The streaming was free. But, this year they have to pay. Where's the added benefit? Is the stream more consisent? Do you get inside access? etc.

     

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  17.  
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    Casey, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 2:55pm

    I am pretty sure NCAA just signed an agreement a week or two ago with Slacker Radio to offer this all for free to all their mobile listeners. The entire tournament.

     

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  18.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re: Wow...

    I'll answer the first question concerning how many more eyeballs. At least two less. I don't really care for basketball, but my family does the bracket thing every year. When it was free, I might have been willing to watch and in fact have on occasion. There's no way I'm paying for it though.

     

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  19.  
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    flargalgargal (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:04pm

    Re:

    They're also adding more play-in games all the time. While not great opportunities, they are extra opportunities to advertise during the tournament. And lots of people who don't care at any other time will watch the tournament, whether it's because they're in a bracket pool, or because it's the championship. The same thing happens in other sports, like how my roommate only watches the world series because it's the championship of baseball. Championships draw in more viewers.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:10pm

    This seems so trivial compared to this articles (not-so)revelations (off topic - but a good bit more important): http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:20pm

    $4 for the ENTIRE fugging tournament?! Oh the horror!! My pair of eyeballs just made up for one lame-o who couldn't stomach $4 for 60+ games. I usually agree with 90+% of what I read on Techdirt. But this childish rant was lame.

     

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  22.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Not a massive fail

    There is one huge fail that makes the $3.99 unreasonable for some people. The app is only guaranteed to work on specific models, mostly Samsung. If you get the Android version you end up with no guarantee that it will work, and there is no refund. I know of one person that has a designated model, and it didn't work for him. Also out of luck.

    Normally you have a 15-minute refund opportunity in the Google market (or Play, as it is now called). However, this is an in-app purchase, so the refund opportunity does not apply. Clever of the NCAA to set it up that way and guarantee themselves $3.99 worth of angry fan.

     

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  23.  
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    flargalgargal (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 3:53pm

    Re: Re:

    They're also setting a precedent where people don't mind if they just slightly increase the price without bringing in the benefit. How long til they slightly increase it again? It's the beginning of vicious cycle in some ways.

     

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  24.  
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    Sqrlmasta, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 4:01pm

    Re: Loaded with Junk

    @BeachBum:

    I too have the iPad app and you can absolutely make the video fullscreen. Once you are viewing the game, tap the video once for a toolbar to come up and click the set of outward-facing arrows on the right-hand side... MUCH more enjoyable!

     

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  25.  
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    Travis, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 4:15pm

    Still streamed free on CBS' website

    It just requires flash so no iPad/iPhone support.

     

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  26.  
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    Palpatine, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Get back to work. Or more lightning.

     

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  27.  
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    Chuck R, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 5:07pm

    I think you're assuming that by having it free, they were still making money with their current advertising structure. It is possible that the costs of streaming rights, bandwidth, etc. have gone up, or that they weren't making much money (which is their actual overall goal). So to do that, they added a small fee, which is definitely in the reasonable realm. They may have also noticed the same thing you have, that people were watching at work, and do you know what people at work have? Money, because they have jobs, making them more likely to pay for the service than someone sitting at home without a job.

     

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  28.  
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    Michael Ho (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 5:11pm

    How big will their streaming viewership be?

    In 2010, March Madness had 3 million computer-viewing fans... I wonder if those stats will come out this year.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0320/NCAA-March-Madness-On-Demand-sets-streaming-video-reco rd

     

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  29.  
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    HrilL, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 5:22pm

    I paid and wished I never did

    Sure it was only $3.99 and I figured why not since the streams would be better than the free ones right? Figured sure it was free last year but $3.99 is not bad either so I forked it over.

    1) As it turns out their servers are over loaded so the quality of the streams dropped to the same quality as the free (though illegal) streams. I know for a fact it is not a bandwidth limitation on my connection because we have 100Mbps Ethernet and I am the network administrator and saw that we were only consuming 20Mbps which is our average during the day.

    2) When a commercial comes on you can't change to another game or even adjust the volume. The screen gets locked. This pissed me off as I would normally mute commercials so I could listen to something else while they were on and perhaps I wanted to check in on another game. On TV you can change the channel at will. Free streams you can mute at any time as well and change to any of them you want.

    3) Their player doesn't let you stream more than one game at a time, something that you can easily do with the free streams.

    I could live with numbers 2 and 3 I guess but if the quality is as low as the free streams then whatís the point of paying for something thatís supposed to be better.

     

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  30.  
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    kING aLGONQUIN, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 5:24pm

    Re: I got this

    I agree with you. Does the writer know how much it costs to stream all the games? Does he know how much the advertisers pay to cover it? If you are a massive sportsfan, and a massive College Basketball fan... $4 shouldnt elicit such a negative response. Besides, if you havent noticed, the economy is not in its best shape. So advertisers and sponsors are a little hard to pony up with $$$, especially to something brand new. I have it, and its worth $4

     

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  31.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Mar 17th, 2012 @ 5:38am

    Re:

    But this childish rant was lame.

    The only rant I can see is yours and it misses the point. $4 may not be much for a whole season of content, but whether they like it or not they're competing with other non-official offerings and as has been pointed out by others in the comments the official offering is limited. Which of these sounds more attractive?
    1/ $4 for something that allows you to watch a single game at a time, forces you to watch and listen to ads, and requires a specific application that may or may not work on the device that you want to use.
    2/ $0 for watching as many games simultaneously as your connection will support, being able to turn off ads you don't want and no application tie-in so it's pretty much guaranteed to work where you want it.

    It's not quite that simple of course since legitimacy has value in and of itself and on the other side there's also the emotional response of "hang on a minute they could provide this free and now they want money for it?". Normally when something free starts costing there's usually at least the illusion of better service (value) and there doesn't appear to be in this case

    Whether the $4 is worth it or not (and I don't care either way, not interested enough to watch for free even if it were "allowed" in my country), some people who watched for free last year are not going to pay to watch and the legitimate (and non-ranting) question in the article is whether the lost viewers are worth more than the gained subscription fees.

     

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  32.  
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    ThePricingJournal, Mar 18th, 2012 @ 10:18am

    Price fits for non-cable viewers

    Watching on the TV is NOT free... at least if you want to watch all the games.

    I don't have cable so can't watch games on TBS, TNT, or True TV (which I didn't know even existed...). So hooking up my computer to my TV and streaming any game for $4 sure beats paying for cable.

    Could I have found a website to view it for free. Sure, I find the connection to be a ton better with the paying service

     

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  33.  
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    TimK (profile), Mar 19th, 2012 @ 5:17am

    No Thanks

    As Tim pointed out in the article, this makes no sense for anyone. They are showing the same ads that people would be seeing with free OTA broadcasts or with their cable/dish feed. All it does is make it less likely that people will view those ads....and ad views is what pays the bills isn't it?

    I for one refused to pay it. Not even a consideration. And I am a guy who played college ball, played in the tournament, and love this time of year. In fact, I take off from work every year to watch games on the first two days. It would've been great to be able to watch riding in the car or outside or on the toilet! But instead I didn't watch when I wasn't near a TV. I didn't watch the games. I didn't watch the ads.

    Everyone lost.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2012 @ 8:55am

    Re:

    This will 'part you with your money' and still server you ads....

    So you like paying more for commercials....

    You are the entertainment industry shill's wet dream....

     

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  35.  
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    DH, Apr 2nd, 2012 @ 5:14pm

    Comcast's fault?

    Is it just a coincidence that Comcast is offering "free" streaming to their customers this year?

    I wonder how much they paid the NCAA for the privilege.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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