CBS And Turner Flip The Pay Switch For March Madness Mobile Streaming

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Streaming March Madness tournament games next month won’t be as free and easy as it was last year, with broadcast partners CBS (NYSE: CBS) and Turner announcing a tiered plan featuring an authenticated pay wall for personal-computer viewing and a $3.99 premium charge for all mobile access.

Last year’s free-to-view March Madness on Demand was wildly popular for CBS and Turner, which in 2010 teamed on a 14-year, $10.8 billion broadcast license for the premiere post-season event for collegiate basketball. In 2011, usage across platforms for early-round games was as high as 3 million unique users daily.

This year, however, the newly christened “March Madness Live” distribution plan will more closely resemble the TV Everywhere authentication model being championed by Turner parent Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) Corp.

Games broadcast on CBS will still be available for free on CBSSports.com on Macs and PCs, but there will now be pay walls on other digital viewing.

Turner will stream all tournament games shown on both networks on personal computers through the TV Everywhere authentication model, with subscribers to all major TV service providers except Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) able to access games shown on TBS.com, TNT.tv and truTV.com

Mobile viewing will require a premium payment.

For $3.99, consumers will be able to access all tournament games not just on Macs and PCs, but iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

It’s not the first time mobile users have had to pay a premium—before it defrayed much of its March Madness licensing costs by partnering with Turner, CBS in 2009 charged iPhone users $4.99 to stream live video of tournament games.

The $3.99 all-access price is being criticized by media analysts, who note that loyal cable and satellite subscribers actually pay more for authentication and don’t have the benefit of mobile device access.

“We would like to have seen CBS/Turner offer a much higher fee for non-authenticated subscribers ($20 or more) who want the full March Madness on Demand with the authenticated price at $3.99,” wrote BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield. “Turner/CBS should want to enhance the value perception of a multichannel video subscription in consumers’ minds and at the same time put extreme pressure on MVPDs like Time Warner Cable who are not yet authenticating.”

 

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Bleacher Report Launches Hyper-Specialized YouTube Channels

Bleacher Report Logo

Bleacher Report appears determined to prove that love of minutia-based sports fare has no bounds. Today, the upstart sports site announced the launch of new YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) channels.

One of Bleacher Report’s new YouTube offerings is dedicated to a year-round discussion of the NFL draft while another offers updates on the college recruiting scene. The weekly shows are made by veteran TV producers and promise to offer penetrating insight into topics like the “NBA’s most notorious heckler” and “candid memories from current and former NFL stars on their draft experience.” Another channel borrows from Bleacher Report’s infamous “5 whatever whatever” formula and offers a daily round-up of buzzworthy stories hosted by minor MTV personality Desi Sanchez.

While it’s easy to mock Bleacher Report’s content, there’s no denying its ambition or success. Since launching in 2008, the site has grown by leaps and bounds and disrupted traditional sports journalism by relying on unpaid fan reporters led by a handful of mentors. According to the company, Bleacher Report is the web’s fifth biggest sports destination with 25 million unique monthly users. (Update: In an email, a spokesman from CBSSports.com questioned these numbers, noting that “comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) reported 9 million uniques for Bleacher Report in December while Nielsen had them at 7.4 million.”)

The business strategy behind Bleacher Report’s YouTube launch is not clear from its release, but it appears videos of its “top 5” show are also available on its regular website. The NFL draft and recruiting “shows” (at one to six minutes, they are actually more like clips) appear for now to be available just on YouTube.

Meanwhile, competitor Sports Illustrated (NYSE: TWX) appears to have tested the YouTube waters but then lost interest—the SI channel has not been updated for months. The same is not true of SI’s swimsuit channel on YouTube which features a Valentine’s Day interview with a young woman who “sees herself on the cover of the SI Swimsuit issue for the first time and talks about what the prestigious honor means.”

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Can Jeremy Lin End The MSG/Time Warner Cable War?

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He may have outplayed NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in the Garden Friday night, but the pressure keeps mounting on New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. Now, the pro-basketball Cinderella Story is being counted on to end the entrenched carriage war between the Madison Square Garden Company and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

Since Jan. 1, about 2.8 million Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) subscribers have been unable to see regional sports telecasts of not only Knicks home games, but also those for local NHL teams the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. Time Warner has been in a lengthy dispute with MSG, which owns the regional cable rights to those teams.

Enter Lin, the Harvard-educated son of first-generation Taiwanese immigrants who has emerged as a playmaking star for the moribund Knicks in the last two weeks, after having been cut by two other NBA teams. With Lin leading the Knicks to a five-game winning streak, local news outlets have openly pondered whether he could produce enough buzz to, perhaps, finally trigger revolt among Time Warner’s somewhat indifferent New York subscriber base that could force Time Warner’s hand.

And on Twitter, several bloggers are agitating for a pay-per-view option for home Knick games. “Knicks get hot, demand spikes for MSG, let us pay a premium for spot access and everybody Lins,” LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) CEO Jeff Weiner suggested. Traffic to the Turner Sports-operated New York Knicks homepage is up 500 percent recently.

An MSG representative told us Monday that pay per view is “not in our plans right now.” But the company has added fuel to the carriage dispute discussion by touting its 70 percent year-to-year ratings increases for Knicks games on the MSG Network featuring Lin—a bump that has come without Time Warner homes.

So far, however, Time Warner Cable officials have shown no sign of capitulation. “Unfortunately, MSG is still demanding a 53 percent increase,” read a Time Warner statement Monday, re-asserting the company’s position that MSG reneged on an agreement last year for 6.5 percent fee increases. “Our hope is that they will go back to their pre-December demands and close a reasonable deal. It’s important to remember that they declined our request for an extension in December, thus preventing our customers from viewing games on MSG. Fortunately, fans still have access to some games via other networks.

 

 

 

 

Time Warner Cable points out the national visibility on cable of Knicks games. Sure, local fans missed Lin leading the Knicks over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday, but they were able to catch Friday night’s contest against the Lakers on ESPN (NYSE: DIS), and five of the team’s next nine games are on either ESPN, ABC, TNT or YES, the regional sports outlet for the New Jersey Nets.

There’s also the fact that cable alternatives like satellite and telecom services are not options in some local areas. For example, DirecTV (NYSE: DTV) is not an option for many surrounded by tall buildings in Manhattan.

It’s true that there’s been a rash of cave-ins recently by cable and satellite service providers. In another carriage conflict last October, for example, Fox (NSDQ: NWS) Networks used its effective “KeepMyNets” PR campaign to hold DirecTV’s feet to the fire. That campaign included commercials in which Kurt Sutter, outspoken creator of hit FX drama Sons of Anarchy, urged DirecTV-subscribing fans of his show to petition their satellite company. It worked—not only was Fox able to secure hefty fee increases for bigger channels like FX, it improved the position for obscure outlets like Fuel TV, too.

But while Sutter and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy (who also participated in the KeepMyNets campaign) were able to build public pressure before DirecTV was able to pull Fox Network channels, Lin faces a more entrenched opponent.

Time Warner is coming off a fourth quarter during which it reported income and revenue that both outpaced investor forecasts. And facing what it has characterized as unreasonable demands from Knicks boss and MSG executive chairman James Dolan to not only increase sports carriage fees by 53 percent, but also start running the little-seen music channel FUSE, Time Warner officials have privately said they’re drawing a line in the sand in regard to what have become spiraling network renewal fees in the MSO business.

They believe the impact of these negotiations will have a ripple effect on future carriage talks. Of course, Time Warner has itself to blame for the escalating carriage fees, with its 20-year, $3 billion regional sports deal with the Lakers setting records and providing Dolan and MSG with a rallying cry. With the Knicks not having won a championship in 40 years and the Lakers enjoying the rabid Southern California following that comes with 11 titles won over that span, Time Warner has argued the apples-and-oranges nature of that comparison.

 

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Who Put Sports in My Twitter Again? The Jeremy Lin Explainer.

Bad news for people who like tech but not sports: You’re going to have to read about basketball for a bit.

I realize that this will be a bummer for some of you who thought you could enter an athletics-free zone, now that the Super Bowl is over.

But in the last week, Jeremy Lin has become a national sensation, and one who resonates with a certain slice of tech-savvy Twitter and Facebook users. Which means you’re going to see a lot of him, at least in the very near future.

Who is Jeremy Lin? Easy enough to Google him, or to read any number of profiles, like this nice piece from the New York Times. But if you’re in a real hurry, and/or lazy –

 

We can help you out here:

  • Jeremy Lin’s parents emigrated from Taiwan to the Bay Area in the 1970s.
  • Jeremy Lin played basketball at Palo Alto High School.
  • Jeremy Lin played basketball at Harvard, where he earned an economics degree.
  • After Harvard, Jeremy Lin played briefly for the Golden State Warriors, who let him go, and the Houston Rockets, who let him go.
  • Last December, the New York Knicks hired him as a backup player, and he only played briefly for the team until last week.
  • Last week, Jeremy Lin started playing a lot for the Knicks, because they had run out of bodies in his position. Since then, he’s played at a very high level. And the Knicks, who have been very bad for a long time, have won all of their games.
  • The Knicks’ last game was last night, where they beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant in a game that lots of people watched.
  • Jeremy Lin’s instant celebrity comes from the conflation of several currents: He is a very rare Ivy League graduate playing and succeeding in the NBA. And he is an even rarer Asian-American playing in the NBA — just the fourth in the league’s history. And he plays in New York, a city that loves basketball and winners, and which still has an outsized influence on media. It’s an underdog story that is almost literally unbelievable. And one that touches on race and culture in a way that’s exciting without making (most) people uncomfortable.*
  • If none of this appeals to you, you must really, really hate sports. Weird. But simple probability is in your favor, since Lin can’t keep this streak going indefinitely. And at some point, the hysteria will dissipate, and you won’t have to feign interest in three-point shots when you talk to prominent angel investors, entrepreneurs, etc.
  • Then again, we would have said that six days ago, too.

Too many words? Okay. Some moving pictures:

*Now that Jeremy Lin is a meme, some of the race/class stuff will unfortunately become much less pleasant.

By The Numbers: NBC’s Super Bowl Streams

Super Bowl

It’s not the record average of 111 million viewers who watched the game on television, but NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) says it notched a digital milestone Sunday. The network says that more than 2.1 million people streamed Super Bowl XLVI on computers, tablets and smart phones, which it declared the highest single-game sporting-event video traffic of all time.

Citing third-party data from Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) and mDialog, NBC says 2,105,441 unique users in the U.S. streamed the game on either NBCSports.com, NFL.com or through the NFL Mobile channel that’s available to Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) subscribers.

NBC also said that 78.6 million total minutes of game coverage were streamed and that 1.83 million game clips and Super Bowl ads were viewed digitally. CBS’ coverage of the NCAA’s “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament actually recorded more than 3 million digital viewers for individual-day of coverage last spring. But no single game came close to the 2.1 million mark.

Although it was the first time the Super Bowl has been streamed, NBC routinely streams its Sunday Night regular-season NFL coverage, which averages around 300,000 unique viewers, the network said.

Prior to the game, sports buyers for several large media agencies told us they were reluctant to spend a mid-six-figure sums for Super Bowl digital advertising time, noting that they were concerned that the game wouldn’t attract a big viewership number. This is appointment viewing, they noted, the kind of game for which fans go to viewing parties and watch the game on a big-screen TV.

Sunday’s numbers might cause them to reconsider future digital buys for big sports events.

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Feds Seize Hundreds Of Websites Days Before Superbowl

Super Bowl XLVI

In what is becoming a ritual akin to Superbowl Week itself, federal prosecutors today announced the seizure of 16 websites that offered live streaming of sporting events and 291 others that sold counterfeit sports merchandise.

Prosecutors timed the seizures to coincide with a major marketing event, Superbowl XLVI. Similar enforcement actions occurred before last year’s Superbowl and before cyber-Monday last November when the feds bagged 150 illicit sites.

Today’s haul included streaming sites with names like sports95.com and firstrowtv.com. Prosecutors are also charging 28-year-old Michigan man Yonjo Quiroa with criminal copyright for operating the sites from his house.

Meanwhile, Reuters (NYSE: TRI) reports that New England quarterback Tom Brady admitted he used an unauthorized stream to watch last year’s Super Bowl while he was in Costa Rica nursing a sore foot.

The theatrics of the enforcement action resembled previous ones. As on other occasions, today’s news featured a swarm of federal agencies, led by Homeland Security, who displayed fake merchandise and gave triumphant statements.

The website seizures are based on a legal process created in the 1970’s to let federal agents confiscate the property of drug dealers. Once seized, the sites display federal law enforcement badges.

After a number of months, the names are forfeited and become the property of the federal government. The government, in a tactic of dubious legality, has also been using some of the forfeited sites to display anti-piracy messages from Hollywood.

Las Vegas odds makers are favoring the New England Patriots to win the big game by three points over the New York Giants.

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