March Madness on the iPhone - We've arrived

Ezra Roizen · March 13, 2009 · Short URL:

NCAA junkies may just ante up to get a glimpse of the game wherever and whenever they want

 March Madness is not only a battle of wills and abilities between hyper-talented coaches and athletes, it’s a time of the year marked by an individual journey for access.

Thursdays and Fridays of March Madness are tests of will and creativity for any loyal hoops fan. It started with radio earbuds strategically placed in the ear away from your co-workers. Then it moved to the portable handheld TV.  Both provided decent access, but were limited by the decisions made by the networks as to which games you heard or watched. 

There’s nothing worse than being a Saluki forced to watch a Miner. But that was the state of the art.  

Then came the Internet, with the promise of open access for all. 

But when you’re at the office, the Internet runs on your company’s network. 

It doesn’t go over well at performance review time when IT points out that you spent four days in March running an eight hour stream of hoops (and you know those guys were doing it). 

So, even though the Internet had so much promise, it didn’t quite get us to the promise land.  So we’re back to checking updated scores on CBS Sportsline, with emergency trips to the Bar down the street for key moments.

But now, we have our first glimmer of nirvana since the tournament started in 1939. Any game you want, off the corporate network, in audio and video, to a device that handles video quite well – we’ve arrived.

When the popular March Madness games begin next Thursday, March 19, basketball fans will now be able to watch all 63 games on their iPhones for $5.

Here's what they get. The new iPhone app, called CBS Sports NCAA March Madness On Demand, will allow fans to watch live streaming video on their iPhones via a WiFi connection, or to hear audio over a 3G or EDGE network. According to CNet, fans will also receive "news stories, bracket information, team stats, preview segments, and video recaps of past games in a screen dedicated to highlights.

"The app's video and audio streams will cover every game aired live between March 19 and April 6 -- including the NCAA Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four, and National Championship games. CBS Sports NCAA March Madness On Demand is available for $4.99 through the iTunes App Store."

The subscription fee for the games is a departure for CBS, which first brought the March Madness games online back in 2006. Back then, CBS made the games available free of charge. It was exciting news for those tethered to their cubicles all day. The free version was also a departure from an attempt to make money on the NCAA games for a subscription fee in 2005.

In that year, CBS made the NCAA tournament games avaiable via for $20. About 25,000 people signed up. The half a million dollars' worth of subscription fees wasn't enough to cover the flat fee paid by CSTV to CBS for the rights. 

Did CBS make the right decision to charge for the games on the iPhone? We'll see after the number of fans who've subscribed are tallied up. It's my bet that charging for this event on mobile will be a much easier sell than charging for these games online four years ago.

For one, paying a fee is almost a standard way of accessing services on the mobile device. Secondly, watching a game on an office computer is a lot trickier than surreptitously catching a glance at the iPhone.

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Ezra Roizen

Advisor-to and commenter-on emerging ventures

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