While the start of spring signifies fresh flowers and new beginnings for some, to others it has an entirely different meaning: NCAA March Madness. Possibly the most significant aspect of the tournament – outside of the actual games – are the ways fans are able to watch the contests. As the media industry continues to evolve, the mediums in which fans consume major sporting events are also changing. This impacts both how we watch games and also how advertisers reach their audience. This March, viewers and brands can expect some significant changes to their NCAA Tournament viewing experience.
CBS Returns to the Final Four
CBS will return to the lead broadcast role for the 2017 tournament. The network will be producing over 20 games, including the Final Four and the National Championship. Last year, TBS, a Turner network, aired both the Final Four and National Championship games, marking the first time the tournament winner was crowned on cable television. This was part of a large push by Turner to increase their position in sports in hopes of capturing more viewers and ad dollars. The broadcaster invested billions of dollars in purchasing the rights to the NCAA Tournament, along with Major League Baseball and NBA games. While it’s not airing the most important games this year, Turner networks TNT, TBS and truTV will broadcast about two-thirds of the 2017 tournament games.
The 2017 tournament also signifies the most cord-cutter friendly year for March Madness. Turner laid the foundation last year by launching a March Madness YouTube channel and signing a multi-year contract with Snapchat. Although the majority of games will air on cable, there are plenty of legal options for viewers to follow along without a traditional TV subscription. The March Madness Live app is free to download and watch all games on CBS, as well as is CBSSports.com. Viewers will still need a subscription to watch games aired on Turner networks via the app. There are also a number of low-cost streaming services viewers can subscribe to, including CBS All-Access, DIRECTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, as well as Apple TV, Roku, Fire and Xbox specifically for Turner games. Of course, there is always the option of a good old antenna to view games aired on CBS.
The Second Screen Experience
As the digital media landscape continues to change for viewers, advertisers are also impacted. It is worth nothing that March Madness is the second-largest grossing post-season franchise for networks behind only the Super Bowl. You may think that the extreme amount of cord cutting over the years has brought ad dollars down, but in fact it is the opposite. In 2016, national TV advertising spending on CBS and Turner generated $1.24 billion, up almost five percent from 2015 and on par with annual TV rights fee increases. While the amount of ad revenue generated by live sporting events continues to rise, we may see an end in site as more consumers drop traditional TV subscriptions. Much like Turner did with Snapchat last year and others have done with a focus on digital brackets, advertisers will need to get creative with how they reach their audience during the NCAA tournament.
We don’t expect the broadcasting industry to stop evolving any time soon, so there will likely be more changes in store for next year’s tournament. Perhaps we will see an increase in virtual reality broadcasting?