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While preparing for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament (AKA March Madness), I was stunned to learn that no longer would I be able to enjoy, free of charge, every game on my computer with NCAA’s March Madness On Demand (MMOD) streaming service.
MMOD pioneered online sports video streaming years ago by allowing people to simply log on and pick the game they wanted to watch from their computer. The trend was revolutionary, and it has been copied by ESPN with its ESPN3 platform, amongst others.
Of course MMOD is a constant irritant to employers who already bemoan the lack of productivity during the opening round of the tournament, historically cited as two of the most unproductive work days in the U.S. In addition, it’s bemoaned by corporate IT departments who see their internet bandwidth eaten up by streaming video broadcasts.
However, MMOD was a delight to millions who suddenly had a much better option than hitting “refresh” constantly, while time dwindled down in their team’s game. Furthermore, the platform represented a potential gold mine for CBS from both an advertising and social media perspective.
The new pay model offers a suite of live products, produced on multiple platforms, including online, iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch apps. For $3.99 users can access games on video screens as well as via Wi-fi and 3G, beginning with the opening rounds through the championship game on April 2.
One can’t help but wonder how this will go over with a nation of basketball fans who have become used to watching what they want, when they want it, for no cost.
In a much broader sense though, the move by MMOD reflects an industry-wide trend of online providers attempting to recapture revenue directly for their digital content rather than solely relying on online advertising.
Similar policies have been or will soon be instituted by the online portals of the New York Times and a number of local newspapers. However, the outcome and profitability of these efforts remains unknown since these paid channels will still essentially be competing against others who offer content for free, such as blogs and other websites (in MMOD’s case it just happens to be the websites’ TV networks).
Regardless of your opinion on the subject though, MMOD does offer an interesting case study for whether or not people will pay for exclusive online content after having it provided for free first. This year, along with paying attention to the brackets, we should all closely watch where everyone tunes in.