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March Madness online helps CBS turn profit on tourney

A detail of a NCAA logo decal is seen at center of a basketball court.

Steve Chiotakis: A year ago, CBS was thinking it was gonna take a big bath on the NCAA basketball tournament. The network was expecting to lose $200 million a year. They even considered paying ESPN to take the tournament off their hands all together. But fortunes have changed. And new technology plus a cable deal have made CBS's coverage a slam dunk.

Here's Marketplace's Steve Henn.


Steve Henn: Mark Ganis runs the Chicago consulting firm Sports Corp. He says if CBS lost March Madness, it would have been devastating.

Mark Ganis: This is one of their marquee events. If this was lost, it would have had a very negative effect on the entire broadcasting company.

So the network looked for ways to expand the tourney's reach. It cut a deal with Turner Broadcasting to split the costs and increase the number of cable channels carrying games. And last year, CBS started streaming all the games online for free.

Ganis: And the viewership was enormous. They sold advertising for it and they still had the in-game advertising. It turned out to be a real winner because most of the people who watched it on their computers were at work and so it didn't cannibalize the TV ratings at all.

You just had to keep an eye out for your boss.

Ganis: There actually was a "Boss" button on the screen. So it would pop up like a spreadsheet as soon as your boss came around.

Henn: Unfortunately, that spreadsheet was really the bracket.

Seriously, Ganis thinks streaming big sporting events to PCs, mobile phones and iPads is set to explode. If he's right, in a few years, we might be watching the Olympics on YouTube.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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