March Madness: You can't run, you can't hide. No complaints here.
"Pardon The Interruption ..."
The flight attendant's voice cut through my headphones.
How did she know what I was watching? I mean, sure, there were only a few dozen stations available to passengers on my cross-country flight, but there were four versions of ESPN and only one had good ol' Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser screaming at me.
... "please prepare for landing."
Oh. Had I already been watching ESPN for five hours? Nineteen more and I could match the record set by Will Leitch while writing his book, "God Save The Fan." My only thought about the turbulent journey ... too bad Bill Plaschke wasn't on Around the Horn. J.A. Adande was the only one sticking up for the Pac-10, and he doesn't yell loud enough to pop my eardrums.
The screen flickered off as we made our final descent. Ten minutes until I could get March Madness updates on my cell phone. What could I do in between? I grabbed a neighbor's copy of USA Today. They had the NCAA tournament covered: front page, sports page, special supplemental section, even a supplement for the supplemental section. Mmmm. Madness.
The nation's most widely read, um, circulated newspaper brought out the big guns for this issue. They had a guest column from Dick Vitale. What could Dicky V. tell me before touchdown? North Carolina is good. OK, got it. So are Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Check. All four of these No. 1-seeded teams will make it to Detroit? Ugh. I guess somebody had to fall on that sword, baby.
I flipped to another section where, buried deep at the bottom of the page, was an inconspicuous column labeled Multi-Media: Viewer's guide to March Madness. Now here's some news I can use.
The list was dense and rich like Haagen Dazs: broadcast TV, online, mobile devices, satellite TV, cable TV and radio. You know this is getting serious when you can watch games on your iPod. Not just iPhone, iPod. As in the device that can't make phone calls.
The greatest innovation of them all is the online broadcast platform launched last year by CBS. Every single moment of every single game. Live. Free.
We live in an on-demand culture, and the Internet is the perfect distribution channel for CBS' supply of March Madness (they happen to have a monopoly). It's splashed with ads, but did anybody else notice the Pacific Life Insurance whale logo pasted across center court at the Pac-10 tournament? Of course you did. It's a whale. I can deal with a couple banner ads in exchange for watching games that most people couldn't see at all 10 years ago.
Other sports need to learn a lesson from CBS. The basic premise of mass media has always been pairing content with advertising. With the entire world -- literally -- as your potential audience, online broadcasters sit at the pinnacle of mass media. Yet Major League Baseball insists on charging for content. For a sport well behind the NFL and arguably grappling with the NBA for second place in cultural relevance in America, it's an out-of-touch move. Hey, Bud! Yeah, you, Bud Selig ... never pass on an opportunity to promote your brand.
College football is also a step behind. Many colleges and universities charge for their "all-access" content, which actually makes sense for niche markets. But big bowl games are still figuring it out. It's hard to find a market that doesn't air the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or BCS national championship game. Shortly after the game ends, you can watch the entire thing (with very limited commercials) on Hulu.com. But it's not the same as sending it live to a worldwide audience, and they don't include the Rose Bowl and at least a couple dozen of the other postseason games.
An upcoming band, The Pleasant Return, screams, "I want more ... I want more ... I want MOOOOOOORE!" in their song titled ... "I Want More." That's just how I feel about live online content. If it's good enough for my TV screen, it's good enough for my computer screen. Gimme more.
Detractors will probably point out that the quality of the signal is a little behind. It's still pretty darn good. YouTube has high definition and high quality offerings, and Move Networks (which powers ESPN 360) has a demo that will blow your mind.
To channel "The Swami" for a moment ... we may be just a decade from the NFL dropping their network contracts, streaming the Super Bowl online and making a pretty penny by cutting out the middle man. Call me crazy. I don't have any inside information -- I'm just looking down the information superhighway.
-- Adam Rose
Photo: A screen grab from ESPNU let's you know two things: it's March and there's basketball madness.