Say time travel was possible and you go back to 2007. Someone takes out their first iPhone, and you notice something missing. They can't watch that big game live because the WatchESPN app hasn’t…
Most brackets might be busted by now, but that hasn't stopped March Madness fans from tuning in to watch the nation's best college teams battle it out on the court. With more ways to watch the tournament than ever before, Hania Poole, Turner’s general manager of NCAA Digital, shared in an interview with NCTA how the network’s digital strategies behind the madness keep viewers excited for the games, even if their teams aren't lucky enough to go all the way.
"We are everywhere the fan is, we're across 16 platforms," said Poole, which is a record number for the tournament this year and includes iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch, Android phone, Android tablet, Amazon Echo, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku TV, and Xbox One, among others. While CBS is televising 21 games, the rest of the games--including the semifinals and championship game--are available via TV subscription on TBS, TNT and truTV, as well as the individual apps for those networks.
For the past several years, Turner has added more and more content every year to compliment the live video of the tournament with either bracket insights or other interactive features that help empower fans into making better selections and become more invested--and therefore engaged--in March Madness.
This year, viewers on the app receive customized push notifications that alert them to when they move up or down in their brackets. So when Syracuse was about to upset Michigan State, the app sent out an alert to everyone notifying them about what was about to happen. "In one slice, they are there in that live video. It's those tactics that we have on the digital platforms, the concept of continuous play, where we can easily roll you from one game and into another. Those things allow us to keep people around longer," said Poole.
Though still in the experimental stages, virtual reality is also back for the third year, with expanded coverage. This year, 21 games will be covered on the VR app, up from six games last year, and now includes the Google Daydream headsets along with Samsung's Gear VR. "This continues to be an area for us to learn from every year, and we are seeing more engagement," she added.
In her sixth tournament with Turner, Poole has seen a lot of growth in digital viewership and achievements in video, especially on connected devices. "From a quality and reliability standpoint, not without a ton of work of course, you are seeing video become better and better. Even a few years ago there were more hiccups in the pipes," according to Poole. "Now, we’ve made it super easy to access video. It’s so easy to use."
The coverage has already broken a viewership record for the most concurrent streams in one game--5.5 million live streams--which happened with the very first match up between Oklahoma and Rhode Island. "It's getting to the point where these games on digital are looking a lot like TV," said Poole.
Turner plans to continue to expand coverage in the future, and to bring in new mediums for viewers to get even closer to the games--such as a possible augmented reality and VR viewing experience. "The idea of people being with you, or feeling like they are with you watching a game--collectively, it seems like that’s where we are headed. I'm not saying this will be here next year, but we're keeping an eye out in both spaces for some kind of co-viewing experience."