CBS May Not Have Rights to Super Bowl Online, Scored with March Madness

CBS has the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl on TV in 2010, but showing the event online in an ad-supported live stream is another story.

“We don’t have the rights yet,” said Sean McManus, president, CBS News & Sports, referring to the live stream. He made his remarks during an interview at paidContent’s EconAffinity conference in New York City Monday.

Earlier this year, CBS tried to secure permission from the NFL to stream the event live online, according to an April BusinessWeek report.

One challenge: CBS does not want to lose a single television viewer to a live stream. “We’re looking at possible ways to use the Internet and its interactivity without hurting the broadcast audience,” he said, pointing to CBS fantasy football as a way the network augments its televised coverage of professional football.

“We approach the Super Bowl as a way to make a big impact. It generates more revenue in a single day than any other event in television,” he said.

Unlike its other sports content, CBS offers fantasy football as a paid subscription. Anyone who signs up as a fantasy football “league manager” pays $149 under a pre-season special available through June 24. McManus did not disclose how much money the subscription service generates.

While CBS sells subscriptions to the fantasy football program, McManus said he does not see that model applying to other CBS content. “Generally speaking when it comes to sports and news on the Internet, the way to generate money is through advertising, not subscriptions,” he said.

Online, men’s college basketball is a growing business for CBS. The network raked in $32 million in advertising for March Madness Online this year, up from $22 million in 2008 and $11 million in 2007. This year, the tournament tallied 7.5 million unique visitors, McManus said.

The start of the basketball tournament attracts far more online viewers than the final games, he said. That’s because the early tournament games tend to be played during the workday when people don’t have access to a television.

“It’s an ideal product to watch on the Internet. There are so many games going on simultaneously with most of the activity Thursday and Friday afternoons,” he said. “That might create some friction with your employer. That’s really not our problem.”

Internet audiences for March Madness drop off when the games move to the evening. That’s when television audiences grow.

On the news front, McManus said CBS has picked up sponsors for Katie Couric’s Webcasts. Last year, Intel’s sponsorship of Couric’s Webcasts during the political conventions totaled “six figures,” McManus said. Subsequent sponsors of Couric Webcasts included Audi and Ford.

Building off of the popularity of crime program, “48 Hours,” McManus said CBS is about to roll out a new Web site focused on crime. “If you like crime, this is a site for you,” McManus said. He didn’t disclose whether any advertisers are signed up for the site.

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