CBS's 'March Madness' Mobile App Forgoes Ad Innovation

  |  March 17, 2009   |  Comments

An iPhone app with premium sports content is a marketer's dream, but this one's decidedly light on ads.

If you're a college basketball fan, you've likely watched NCAA Championship basketball games on CBS and CBSSports.com's March Madness on Demand, which has offered the games online since 2003. This year, you can also watch them on your iPhone or iPod, as CBSSports.com has teamed up with MobiTV to create a mobile app, which it began selling last week.

The entire 63 game tournament, which begins March 19, will be viewable on the mobile app, which will broadcast the games along with a host of other mobile content, from in-game box scores and player stats to post-game score boards and game recaps.

"Our goal is to distribute March Madness on Demand in as many places as possible," said Jason Kint, CBSSports.com's SVP and general manager. "The iPhone is for people not in front of their TV or computer. It's the same broadcast on a different device."

It will also play the same commercials as the TV broadcast, with no separate spots sold for the mobile app. The reason for this is twofold: "It's a subscription product and this is the first year, so we have to build the audience to know what the opportunity is on the advertising side," Kint said.

Ray DeRenzo, MobiTV SVP, said only the national ads will play during the mobile broadcast. "The local avails won't be broadcast and it will cut back to the broadcast feed."

His explanation for the lack of mobile advertising is, "It's a groundbreaking app and we spent a lot of time optimizing it, and we didn't spend a lot of time selling advertising."

Deepa Kathikeyan, a wireless services analyst at Current Analysis, said the reason separate advertising wasn't sold for the mobile app is that it's a paid app.

"The consensus today is that advertising is associated with paid content so content providers do not want to risk aggravating consumers who spend $5 on an application by pushing mobile advertising that may be deemed bothersome by them and impact future subscriptions," she said.

Neil Strother, a Forrester Research analyst, suggested that for the March Madness app, as with most mobile content, "it's still unclear how it will be monetized... But it could be a secondary buy for TV advertisers who will be willing to pay a CPM rate to reach the mobile audience."

He noted geotargeting is a big advertiser draw too. "The potential is there to leverage what mobile marketers have talked about for some time, activities that are different from traditional TV and watching online."

Kint said CBSSports.com will look to insert mobile advertising next year when the viewer numbers are more substantial.

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