CBS To Offer NCAA Games On Nothing But 'Net

CBS Wednesday announced plans to stream a slew of live basketball games exclusively online during this season's NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. The new heavily ad-supported offering is replacing a subscription model, which required consumers to pay $19.99 for the extensive tournament coverage.

Comparing last year's online ad market to today's as "night and day," CBS Digital President Larry Kramer said ad revenue generated from the free offering should easily exceed that from subscriptions.

"The broadband world," Kramer explained, "has changed enough--advertisers have stepped up--that we can now take one of our premium assets and put it online for free."

"This is our Live 8," said Kramer, in reference to America Online's hugely successful streamed music event this past summer, seen by many as proof that broadband as a medium had achieved mass consumer acceptance. "We believe there will be huge viewership."

The deal required cooperation between CBS's television division, CBS Sports, CBS Digital's main sports property, CBS SportsLine.com, the college sports site CSTV--which CBS just agreed to acquire for $325 million--and obviously the NCAA.

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CBS and CSTV have worked together since 2004, when CSTV launched March Madness on Demand, allowing consumers to watch live CBS Sports NCAA Tournament broadcasts for the subscription $20 fee. CBS said the deal to acquire CSTV is likely to close by early 2006, after parent company Viacom completes its planned split into two companies.

Beginning March 16 of next year--when the tournament kicks off--CBS SportsLine.com will produce the "out-of-market" games, so called because only games that are not being broadcast live on consumers' local television markets will be available to stream on NCAAsports.com. Dubbed NCAA March Madness on Demand will feature the out-of-market games being played concurrently.

CBS has lined up several advertisers, said Kramer--some that will be exclusive to either television coverage or online coverage, and some that plan on advertising across both channels. Kramer would not disclose the names of participating advertisers. Live games streamed online will be interrupted by commercial breaks the same length as those that occur on television, said Kramer.

Consumers can also expect various interactive features including polls, personalization tools, and scoreboards to keep track of several live games going on at once.

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