YOU KNOW those annual estimates of lost productivity in the workplace during March Madness? It was about $2 billion last year—a number goosed by CBSSports.com's increasingly popular March Madness on Demand (MMOD). The feature streams live video of all games from the NCAA men's tournament, and the 4.8 million total unique viewers over the 10 days of games in 2008 was a jump of nearly three million from '07.
And with this year's tournament coverage starting on March 19 CBS president Leslie Moonves said ad revenue is "on track to break last year's revenue" of $23 million. That was up from $4 million in 2006 and from $10 million in '07. Most MMOD viewers belong to advertising's most coveted demographic: 25- to 54-year-old male college graduates with household incomes exceeding $75,000.
The CBS strategy has been to make digital media a revenue producer, particularly in sports. In 1999—when the network negotiated a $6.2 billion, 11-year extension of its deal with the NCAA, which includes men's basketball (the extension began in 2003)—CBS Sports president Sean McManus insisted that Internet rights be included. Even last year, when the network laid off more than 160 news employees and saw its net income fall 52%, CBS Sports was investing in its online infrastructure. Now CBS has partnered with Microsoft Silverlight—the media player that handled NBC's streaming online Olympic coverage—to enhance the quality of its video; Silverlight supports nearly triple the video resolution of Windows Media Player.
The rise in MMOD viewers has not cut into NCAA tournament TV ratings for CBS, in part because most of the online usage occurs during typical workday hours. MMOD is "all additive, not cannibalistic," says CBSSports.com general manager Jason Kint. One thing that hasn't changed about March Madness on Demand? CBS again will offer a boss BUTTON, which swiftly hides the game coverage in favor of a mock spreadsheet; in 2008 viewers hit that button 2.5 million times.