March Madness 2.0: Digital Giants Get In on the Action
March Madness is an American phenomenon. Now, as more and more fans of the annual college basketball tournament flock to their tablets and mobile phones to consume the action, it's become a much more social and digital experience.
Several companies have taken notice and are trying innovative ways to take advantage of this trend—in both large and small ways.
Take search engine giant Google. Instead of driving traffic to popular sports sites like ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, they have embedded brackets into a range of searches. Whether you search "March Madness bracket" or "Results," your first result is the most updated bracket and score on Google.
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It's an incremental but clever way to get some good numbers, and the more clicks on Google, the more money Google makes.
Twitter is taking an even bolder step. They have partnered with Turner Broadcasting, offering real-time game highlights to fans via the "@MarchMadness" Twitter handle.
Fans now have the ability not only to watch a highlight but also to clip it, tweet it and share it with their friends.
The "instant replay" concept was first introduced by Twitter last year with ESPN for college bowl football highlights. It has also been used for PAC 12 games and Premier League soccer.
"We have moved beyond the test run, and this is into full production audience engagement," said Mike Folgner, the CEO of SnappyTV, the company that provides the platform for the highlights.
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To Folgner, it's one of those situations where the consumer gets something new, and the provider gets a potentially new revenue stream.
"For the audience, you get the experience where you are watching TV and get hit with the highlights immediately that you can share and engage with," he said. "For the content owner, you have this wonderful new distribution outlet and a new monetization opportunity to bring TV brand advertising into the social experience."
Neither Twitter, Turner or SnappyTV would comment on how many views these clips are getting, but "@MarchMadness" has steadily been increasing followers, currently at more than 120,000.
Another interesting evolution of March Madness in the digital world is YouTube.
ESPN pundit Bill Simmons has been live webcasting his commentary of the games from his living room. He tells you his thoughts, and is joined by friends like former hoop star Jalen Rose.
No ads have been sold by ESPN, as they admit that it's a trial run. But if traffic is good, that would be the likely next step. With low production costs—they have a camera in his living room!—and ESPN spending nothing on NCAA basketball rights, any ad sales would be straight profit.
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Whether these new ways to consume the tournament take a bite out of CBS's coverage remains to be seen, but as viewers seek new and immediate ways to watch, discuss and share highlights, this could increase audience engagement and take March Madness to a whole new level.