Small businesses and technologies continue to improve the viewer experience for one of the most lucrative sporting events. Here are three examples.
In 2010, CBSSports.com saw 8.3 million visitors check out their online streaming March Madness coverage, proving that technology plays a huge part in user behavior during three of the most popular weeks in sports. This also netted CBS $613.8 million in ad sales revenue. Thanks to office pools, increased TV coverage, and mobile streaming, 2011 could be the biggest year yet for viewership.
According to a recent study by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, based in Louisville, viewership is expected to jump to 8.4 million hours during the workday alone. Multiply that figure by the average hourly earnings of $22.87 among private-sector workers and the financial impact exceeds $192 million across the country. But for many managers, it's hard to deprive your employees of the madness. Why not simply embrace it?
'Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could try to embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie,' notes John Challanger, CEO of Challanger, Gray & Christmas. 'This could mean putting televisions in the break room, so employees have somewhere to watch the games other than the Internet. Employers might consider organizing a company-wide pool, which should have no entry fee in order to avoid ethical and/or legal questions.'
But even if your company doesn't support your March Madness viewing (some even take steps to block streaming video and websites that show the games), advancements in technology certainly do. Here are three technology businesses we love that are changing the way we view March Madness.
As consumers, our attention span for content continues to grow smaller and smaller. Whether we DVR our favorite television show to skip the commercials or scan Twitter to find the top news stories rather than reading newspapers, we all try to make the most of our time.
With sports, that time is amplified even further. The NFL and ESPN each have channels that flip between games based on who is about to score a touchdown, giving fans nearly no reason to watch an individual game in its lengthy entirety. For soccer, you can watch a 90-minute game and see only one goal scored. On the first two days of March Madness, there are 32 games being played. What if you could figure out when to tune in to what? That mantra has been simplified by Thuuz, a recently launched Palo Alto, Calif.-based company started by venture capitalist Warren Packard that is using a complex algorithm to alert fans when a game is actually worth tuning into.
'While we've adopted time-shifting of a program, if there's something going on in real-time in sports that you're not watching you want to know about it,' says Packard. 'We're telling people what's exciting when it's getting exciting, and whether you want to or not, you're going to be involved in the conversation the next day at work. Regardless the level of sports fan you are and enthusiasm you have, you can tune in accordingly and be a part of the conversation.'
Thuuz analyzes live feeds of play-by-play data, measuring metrics like the score, team propensity for upsets/comebacks and more, then calculates what is called an 'excitement rating' (on a scale of 1 to 100) that shows when (and if) a game is about to get interesting. By creating an account on their site, users select at what point their interest is piqued on that excitement scale, and are then alerted via email or text message when a game hits that point. Additionally, Thuuz drives users to places they can actually consume the content, whether league apps, websites or streams. So when that game is going to overtime, you'll know maybe even before it happens.
Originally launched in 2004 by brothers Blake and Jason Krikorian, along with Bhupan Shah, California-based Sling Media has penetrated the masses by marketing their product not only as a short-term solution, but a full-time content hub anywhere you are and at anytime. Their flagship product, the Slingbox, allows you to watch your own home television channels on your computer, tablet device or smartphone from anywhere in the world.
It's a one-time expenditure, investing in the set-top box to put on near your television, along with the software for whatever device you plan to use it on. Since inception, they've updated and released various models with varied capabilities, now starting at $179.99. While the company does not release public figures on usage, vice president of marketing Jay Tannenbaum says that they are approaching one million Slingbox users as of March 2011.
'The Slingbox was originally built as an application to thrive around live programming, and there's nothing better live than sports,' notes Tannenbaum,. 'We've gotten to a point where users need to see it live to be a part of the experience, and March Madness is something every sports fan or bracket gambler wants to be watching.'
Beyond the ability to broadcast the games on a variety of devices by controlling your home television, as Tannenbaum says, what really makes the Slingbox stand out is the fact that it's not a one-off application (like March Madness On Demand or a Masters mobile application would be). In other words, you can use it for every live sporting event and television programming you'd want to watch. In addition, they have models allowing you to watch DVR'd programming when on the go, perfect for heavy travelers.
We all think about convenience when it comes to consumption, whether watching the games on our high-def big-screen on the couch or on our mobile phones on the go. But what if we started watching sports as if we were actually in attendance at the game? That's not so far off if you watch sporting events in three-dimensional settings.
'If you actually think about it, ' says Jonathan Dern, President of Cinedigm Entertainment Group, 'we see our entire lives in 3D except for entertainment we consume in 2D and when we see our face in the mirror. Everything else has depth in our lives, which is why when you see a sporting event in 3D, it's almost better than even being at the game.'
In 2010, Cinedigm partnered with LG Electronics, Sensio and CBS Sports to broadcast the entire Final Four in 3D at over 100 movie theaters across the country. Fans turned out in masse to cheer for Butler, Duke, West Virginia and Michigan State. The consumer reaction to Avatar in 3D only wet the appetite for many Americans according to Dern, and watching sports in 3D (aside from a short headache) will become commonplace in future generations. Just this week at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, Avatar director James Cameron noted that sports is what is going to take 3D mainstream, as it simulates being in every one of the best seats in the house.
'We're setting up what is really the next real entertainment offering for fans and kids,' he says. 'More and more games are being shot in 3D, and I can tell you that if that final shot from Butler had gone in, the house in Indianapolis would have come down and so would the theater houses around the country.'
There are no immediate plans for Cinedigm to broadcast another sporting event in 3D in theaters (they've also broadcasted the World Cup), though they are scheduling a Foo Fighters documentary viewing combined with a live concert in early April.
LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.