Tonight, just after 9PM EST, Butler will face UCONN for the Mens’ NCAA Basketball championship. A hoops junkie since I was a kid, I’ll watch the game despite not being a fan of either team. Like so many others in America and beyond, I’ve spent the better part of the past three weeks tracking March Madness, as the tourney has come to be known, on TV and radio, in newspapers and online. And while I’d argue that quality of the basketball itself is down a bit this year (the tourney’s still been plenty fun and exciting), I’d also argue that the quality of the broadcast coverage of the games is the best its ever been. Why? Four networks and one app.
This year’s tournament has been broadcast on TV through a joint venture between CBS Sports and Turner Sports, marking a radical shift from the CBS-only broadcasts of previous years. With four networks – CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV – at their disposal, producers have been able to broadcast every one of the 67 games live, a far cry from the horror of ill-timed cutaways and missed buzzer beaters of years past. While a cable TV subscription has been required to catch all of the action on TV, iPhone and iPad owners have had access to another, perhaps even more impressive option: The official NCAA March Madness On Demand App for iOS.
This app is what Web TV should be. Games have been viewable on computer screens for a few years now, but now they’ve gone mobile for even easier access. The video quality has been excellent. The app is free, it’s supported by mandatory but minimally-intrusive ads, and it works via cellular or Wi-Fi connection. It’s offered on demand access to every single tournament game, with stats, scores of other games, and in-game highlights instantly accessible at the tap of a finger. While the iPhone and iPad apps are essentially the same, the iPad version takes advantage of the device’s larger screen to offer both full-screen video and hybrid video/stats viewing modes.
I’ve watched bits of daytime games at the dentist’s office. I’ve watched bits of evening games from the bathroom. And, finally, my dreams of combining two of my favorite activities at the same time finally came true: I watched a game while cooking dinner in my TV-less kitchen. Propping my iPad up in a case made for viewing, and firing up the March Madness app meant I could keep tabs on my pasta sauce while also keeping tabs on the Sweet Sixteen.
And despite the fact that I actually forgot to fill out a bracket this year, let alone join an office pool or online contest, I’d be remiss not to mention that the app integrates quite well with NCAA.com’s official Bracket Challenge contest. Speaking of integration, you can also set the thing up to pull Facebook and Twitter comments in during the action.
Stats and interactivity is cool, but the big news here is that with the advent of their multi-network deal, the NCAA along with CBS and Turner have taken the tournament mobile. March Madness On Demand for iOS is a stellar app that really should serve as a model for other Web-based TV efforts. Most of all, it should serve as a model for how the tournament will be broadcast in years to come. All NCAA Digital really needs to do to improve is to offer the app for Android, Blackberry and other platforms next year.