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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Madness Live Streaming Comes to iPad

By Jeremy Repanich

From every NCAA men’s basketball tourney game being broadcast in its entirety for the first time, to free live streams of each matchup on the web and iOS devices, the second half of March is pretty much booked for college basketball fans. Hopefully, their loved ones and bosses will understand.

Last year the NCAA signed a new deal with CBS and Turner Sports to share the tournament broadcast rights for the next 14 years. So starting this season, in addition to watching games on CBS, fans can tune in to TBS, TNT or truTV to catch the game they want to see most. Turner Sports also built on the existing March Madness On Demand online platform and Apple’s iTunes Store — to create live streams with enhanced statistics and social media integration for every contest, from the play-in game through the Final Four.

The result is a fan-friendly experience that lets you watch any game anywhere, which means streaming at work for many of us in those first couple days of March Madness. Luckily, the life-saving Boss button (clicked 3.94 million times during the 2010 tournament) is back to hide our viewing from disapproving superiors.

During the 2010 edition, 8.3 million unique viewers watched or listened to 11.7 million hours of online streams of the NCAA tournament. And 575,000 users saw the 2010 Duke-Butler championship online, a meager fraction of the 48.1 million people who caught the game on TV, but still a 70-percent increase compared to 2009. Michael Adamson, vice president of new products and services for Turner Sports, didn’t offer projections for this year to, but he does expect an uptick in viewers. That’s why his company been working to reserve backend bandwidth to ensure consistently smooth streaming for fans.

But the online experience wasn’t created just to kill our productivity at work. Turner Sports and the NCAA want you to log on at home, too, so it won’t just be a video stream. “One of our goals for this was to make March Madness On Demand a complement and a companion to watching the games on TV,” said Turner Sports senior VP Matt Hong.

Turner Sports crafted the interface with the knowledge that even when at home watching the games on TV, millions of sports geeks still have their computers Nearby. With MMOD, you’ll be able to queue highlights while the game is still in progress; enter your location and cable/satellite provider to find out which channel each game is on; track stats like team leaders, scoring streaks, biggest lead and foul trouble; and follow the buzz around the bracket with the social media interface, a new feature that Turner is pushing this year.

“There’s no question that the big buzz around the last two big live events — the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards — has been the impact of social media, and we wanted to tap into that,” Adamson said. “We’ll have people scouring social media services, paying attention to hashtags, to posts, to trends and being engaged every day.”

Each game will have a dedicated social media hub accompanying the live stream with producers populating a feed drawing on commentary from the sideline reporters, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the web. However, users won’t be able to directly input comments into the feed, so you’ll still need to tweet or update your Facebook status and hope the producers see it if you want your two cents added to the conversation.

In’s hands-on test of March Madness On Demand on an iPad, a laptop and an iPhone 4, those social media functions weren’t available through iOS apps, but you were able to tweet or post to Facebook without having to leave the app. Additionally, statistics are better integrated into the service’s web-based version, because checking game stats on the mobile apps shuts off the live stream. Then, switching back cues an ad to run before the game resumes and negatively affects the video resolution as the stream re-buffers. Despite these small quibbles, the interfaces work quite well with solid video streaming that looked great — even in full-screen mode.

The best new feature? Unlike last year, the mobile streaming apps are free.

Unfortunately, there’s bad news for Android users: Turner didn’t develop an app for their phones or tablets. Instead, it focused attention on Apple’s iOS and extending to the iPad. But Adamson assured that Turner plans to develop for Android in the future, and that because Android supports Flash, you can access the streams through your web browser like you would on a PC.

Now that you know you’ll have every game at your fingertips and on your big screen like never before, you’ve been given the blessing and curse of being even more dialed in to the gut-wrenching ups and downs of your bracket. Just remember the immutable law of the office NCAA pool: The person who knows the least about college basketball will most likely win. So have at it, Bracketologists.