Taking the Madness Everywhere

NCAA Digital’s Hania Poole looks to grow the tourney’s online reach
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Turner and CBS Sports’ March Madness Live suite of streaming products for this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament will be available on a record 16 platforms, as the programmers try to reach fans wherever they are with the three-week event.

NCAA Digital vice president of business operations and general manager Hania Poole spoke to B&C about this year’s digital offerings for the tournament, including Fast Break, which whips around every game during the tournament’s first two days. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation.

From your perspective, what does March Madness Live bring to the overall viewing experience of the annual men’s college basketball tournament?

Honestly, the more places we are, the more fans watch, so this is all added to television. We just see it as one offering and we’re just trying to be where fans are. We’re on 16 platforms this year from a digital perspective. We are also expanding our VR offering by going into Google Daydream this year, and we’ll also have it available on Samsung Gear VR. We’re also on mobile web — mobile has come a long way, so we’re going to start with that platform this year as well.

What are some of the new features fans will be able to experience on March Madness Live?

For years, we’ve heard that die-hard bracketology fans really want the best of the best, so on Thursday and Friday we’re going to have one stream for a studio show being produced in Atlanta called Fast Break, and it’s going to whip you around every game with live coverage and highlights, while integrating some social content in there as well. Another exciting thing this year is that we’ve integrated our bracket game more deeply into the MML apps with the video, and what that ends up allowing us to do is personalize push notifications and alerts based on your picks. So when you’re playing your game and you’re in our apps, we can now not only show you who you picked, but we can also give you push notifications to get you to engage. It’s the first foray really into personalizing the app experience that we’re taking this year, and it’s important because we know the people who play our game are our most passionate fans.

How has March Madness Live performed over the past few years?

We don’t release the numbers but we’ve had a very large double-digit growth year-over-year. We still haven’t caught up with the ESPNs and the CBSs — they were there before us and they had many years to build — but our growth rate is high.

What are your expectations for this year now that more people know about March Madness Live and are familiar with its offerings?

Mobile continues to grow and that’s really been the story over the past three to four years, and it continues to grow quite a bit. I think the connected devices are the next real growth area. What’s so wonderful about the tournament is you get so much at-work viewing, so we see a large part of our consumption during the day on the computer. And then, as people get into their cars and go home, we see it shift to mobile. And then when they get home, we see connected devices pick up. That doesn’t mean that the other [platforms] aren’t very high during those times as well, but you can see the viewing patterns moving with the fan, and that’s why it’s so important to be cross-platform.

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