SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Media

Turner’s tournament plan for truTV a success, survey shows

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John Ourand
David Levy
had a surprising answer when I asked for his first take from the opening weekend of NCAA tournament games this year.

“This did exactly what we wanted, in that it helped the sports fan find truTV,” he said.

After a week when CBS and Turner were praised widely for showing every NCAA tournament game in its entirety, why would Levy, Turner’s president of sales, distribution and sports, want to hype his lowest-rated network?

Including the First Four games, which truTV carried exclusively, the network posted the lowest ratings of the four networks carrying games, with only one of its 12 games (Marquette-Syracuse) eclipsing a 1.0 rating — that game pulled a 1.3 household rating.

But a survey we conducted last week with 125 sports business students at Penn’s Wharton School of Business shows why Levy’s focus on truTV makes sense.

After the first weekend of games, only 39 percent of the students could correctly identify where to find truTV on their multi-channel system.

But none of those students — literally zero — had any clue where the channel was just a week before the tournament.

Levy wanted sports fans to find the channel — and they did.

If they couldn’t, they agitated for it. Typical was grad student Amika Porwal, who wanted to see the Marquette-Syracuse game on Sunday night, but her small cable system near Philadelphia doesn’t carry truTV.

“It was really annoying to me that I wasn’t able to watch it,” she said. “I had to pull out my laptop for it.”
I don’t expect many of tournament viewers to return to truTV; the Wharton students mocked promos for shows like “Hardcore Pawn” and “Lizard Lick Towing.” But Levy can now show leagues that fans will find it as Turner pursues additional sports rights.

Other takeaways the Wharton students had from the first weekend of the CBS/Turner-produced tournament:

Cable television has to be considered a big winner. Starting with the BCS on ESPN in January and running through this month’s NCAA tournament, cable networks are showing that they can handle big events.
Nearly all of the Wharton students said they preferred watching this year’s tournament across four networks compared to when CBS had the tournament on its own.

Asked to rate the TV watching experience this year on a scale of 1 to 10, the students’ grades averaged out to an 8.8.

CBS still showed a lot of strength. TV ratings for CBS’s games were the highest of the four networks. And the Wharton students’ experiences show why.

Grad student Josh Gartland said he settled on CBS games because they felt “familiar.”

“I was worried that I was going to miss something, so I was toggling more than I would have,” he said. “I would always default back to CBS because I would feel like that was the headquarters.”

Fellow student Avi Rosenblit agreed. “There’s something about CBS where even the music felt like home base to me.”

The majority, however, never want to go back.

As an Ohio State fan, Gigi Garmendia was happy that she could watch her team’s blowout victory over George Mason, without having the network cut away, as CBS would have done in past years.

“I more strongly prefer this year’s,” she said. “There’s no regional bias.”

March Madness On Demand may be setting usage records (logging 26.7 million visits in the first week), but the experience left a lot of Wharton students wanting more.

Asked to grade their online experience, the students ranked it a 7.1 out of 10 — a good rating, but nearly two full points behind television. The students’ complaints centered on two areas: Many complained about buffering and freezing video. Even students who rated the online experience highly said the video froze a lot.

The other main complaint dealt with the service’s scoreboard. Video frequently would lag; but the scoreboards were updated in real time, so viewers would know when a team scored before the video would run.

• Mobile applications are the sleeping giant. Only 11 of the 125 students watched a game via an iPad or iPhone, but those 11 raved about their experience.

Student Mike Tonelli watched the Kentucky-West Virginia game on an iPad while on a bus in Maryland. He said the picture’s resolution was “phenomenal.”

“The video definitely had some spots where it got disrupted,” he said. “But as soon as I hit Wi-Fi and didn’t have to rely on 3G, I didn’t have any glitches.”

Mobile users raved about their devices, even when they had glitches, such as Colin Brown, who watched on his iPhone 3GS with the updated 4.3 operating system.

“There were times when it cut out,” he said. “But one thing I did like was that when it did cut out, it would still give me the audio feed. It wouldn’t lose a beat.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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