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March 27, 2013

March Mobile Video Madness Scores

Early returns from Turner Sports reveal record live streaming of the annual multi-week college basketball tournament to mobile devices, thanks to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones, along with dropping last year’s $3.99 charge for those without a pay-TV subscription to Turner channels.

The results are good news for more than mobile streaming, which was largely M.I.A for the 2013 Super Bowl as it was only available on select smartphones (not available on ever-present tablets). The expanded list of online advertisers should also be pleased with this year’s vastly expanded audience.

The mobile app had 2.6 million unique visitors watch live video, up 121 percent over 2012, which logged 1.2 million. Over the opening week of the tournament, 61 minutes of video was viewed per user on mobile (tablets and smartphones), an increase of 42 percent vs. the 2012 tourney.

Big Step or Baby Step?

But before lighting the fireworks and releasing the balloons from the rafters, the key metric, engagement, needs to be put in perspective. The question here is: Does an average of 61 minutes a week per user get the job done – as in advancing mobile streaming video? One hour. A complete case for the business of mobile video requires more perspective. Is the far larger visitor number engaged for an average of 61 minutes in week one enough to go beyond pushing product to sell product?

The viewing time per unique visitor could rise by the end of the tournament. Stay tuned.

The related question, given the 61 minute average for week 1 of the tournament, is: How many of these unique visitors are watching as part of a free 4-hour viewing option offered by Turner this year that does not require registration? We’ll have to wait until March Madness ends to see how many mobile viewers exceeded the four-hour free viewing limit.

Going Mobile

Perhaps best demonstrating the power of mobile viewing is Turner’s claim that “as fans became more portable, mobile live video consumption also increased across the platform, accounting for 43 percent of live video streams on Thursday, 48 percent on Friday, 59 percent on Saturday and 60 percent on Sunday.” Flexibility in viewing any coveted sports content is king and this year’s group and number of smartphones and tablets shows that mobile video is winning over fans even when they are free of their jobs and able to watch the games on their traditional or connected TVs at home.

The performance of mobile March Madness could provide a boost to the TV Everywhere (TVE) efforts of pay-TV service providers. TVE is a strategy designed to stem subscriber losses by providing consumers their programming beyond their TV sets to laptops and mobile devices. Tournament fans need to register with their provider to receive the live streams from Turner channels. Not so for the CBS streams.

Apps –o-lutely!

How important is the free app – NCAA March Madness Live – to this year’s early success? Turner says the app ranked No. 1 as the top sports app in the App Store and Google Play during the first week of the tournament.  It was also the No. 1 free app across all categories in the App Store during the opening weekend of the tournament.

No annual event is better suited for mobile viewing than March Madness as the tournament runs over two weeks in duration, is U.S.-based with strong fan affiliation, and features games played during traditional and non-traditional business hours and commute times across the country.

This year, March Madness began on March 19 and concludes on April 8. It has been streamed live since 2003.

This Year’s Milestone

This year’s March Madness holds extra importance for live streaming as 2013 lacks extra-large live events that last year had including the summer Olympics, Democratic and Republican National Conventions and the presidential election. Lessons learned this month will likely be applied in whole or in part to lesser events here and abroad throughout this calendar year.

The winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, are on the docket for February 2014.

March Ad-ness?

You can’t talk about any form of TV delivery without talking about advertising. “Ad loads will be identical in terms of length and availabilities across all platforms, linear and digital,” said a Turner spokesperson. “However, while Web and mobile users will experience the same commercials, different ads will be running on TV.  In other words, the same number of ads, but not the same ads, will be running across TV and Digital.”

This approach differs, for example, from that taken with this year’s Super Bowl, which sent the same feed with the same ads to all platforms (though tablets were not in the mix). This leads folks to believe that viewers beyond broadcast TV was a sweetener to advertisers, while team March Madness charges separately and additionally for digital ads.

While Turner will likely not release these revenue figures until after the tournament ends, last year’s digital advertising haul was $60 million.


While the week 1 viewing numbers show advances on all fronts, important questions need to be answered to provide a full 360-degree view of the live-streamed event.

  1. What is the 2013 digital ad revenue?
  2. Did this revenue offset the lost $3.99 per viewer charge imposed last year?
  3. Are the advertisers for digital platforms sold on mobile video streaming? (Was the huge jump in unique visitors worth the investment?)
  4. What chunk of viewers took advantage of the new preview option which allows fans to watch up to four hours without registering with a pay-TV service provider? What chunk of that chunk don’t subscribe to a pay-TV service? (NOTE-This figure will determine many things, including the efficacy of the TVE strategy.)
  5. Does CBS, which shares some coverage with Turner, see any value in the TVE strategy that Turner follows? ESPN and Disney bought in with AT&T this week, HBO was in early, and Comcast (the largest cable proponent, owns NBC Universal).
  6. Since March Madness is a unique event in many ways, what can be taken from its digital version to other live-streamed, multi-platform events going forward?

The answers to these questions, some of which may not be revealed to the public, will go a very long way to determining what comes next/and what it looks like as far as the business of technology for mobile video.

Live Streaming Stats (Week 1)

What would March Madness be without stats?

Here are the broadband stats from Adobe. (The mobile video stats were provided by Conviva Inc.):

  • Across all digital platforms, NCAA March Madness Live has generated a record-setting 36.6 million live video streams over the first week of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, double the 18.3 million live video streams for the entire tournament in 2012.
  • The 2013 NCAA Tournament has recorded 10 million hours of live video streaming, which represents a 198 percent increase from 2012.
  • Across broadband, 4.2 million unique visitors watched live video, an increase of 161 percent versus 2012 (1.6 million).
  • Over the opening week of the tournament, 105 minutes of live video was consumed per user on broadband an increase of 12 percent vs. 2012.

Stay tuned!

Edited by Braden Becker

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