SBJ/March 18-24, 2013/Media

Turner: March Madness Live audience to grow

Turner Sports is predicting a bigger audience this year for March Madness Live, despite last year’s traffic dip and a further embrace in 2013 of user authentication to watch games on digital platforms.

The company last year shifted the business model for March Madness Live to a TV Everywhere structure in which users were encouraged to authenticate themselves as subscribers of the company’s TBS, TNT and truTV linear TV channels. Turner also offered a fallback option of paying $3.99 to watch the NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. The event drew 51.6 million total broadband and mobile visits, down 6 percent from 2011.

Live streaming of the tournament had never before shown a year-over-year audience decline since CBS began offering the games digitally in 2004.

March Madness Live this year does not include the fee option, and users who do not authenticate themselves will have the option of a four-hour free preview, time which can be spread over the tournament. Still, Turner Sports executives said they are projecting audience growth in 2013.

“We definitely think we will be at or above last year’s numbers,” said Matt Hong, Turner Sports senior vice president and general manager. “We think there’s now a far greater maturity in the market with regard to user authentication and TV Everywhere. People are more accustomed to authenticating, and we’re working to make it easier for viewers to do so.”

Several enhanced pieces of technology have been included in the latest version of March Madness Live to aid with the authentication process. Among those are modem recognition software that can automatically detect Comcast subscribers and simplified log-in procedures within the March Madness Live mobile applications.

Turner Sports also is banking on a traffic boost from Bleacher Report, which it acquired last summer and helped Turner’s overall digital sports portfolio rank fourth in February’s comScore reach rankings with 22.2 million unique visitors. Bleacher Report will be a new launch site to initiate the March Madness Live video player, along with NCAA.com and CBSSports.com.

While the aggregate audience last year showed a decline in size, those who authenticated were shown to watch for longer stretches of time and return more frequently for subsequent tournament games.

“We found those people who authenticated were definitely more invested in the event,” Hong said.

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