- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Credit CBSSportsline.com for making one man’s afternoon watching the NCAA tournament at a Hooters restaurant even better than he hoped.

Brian Youngerman, a computer support technician in Prospect Park, Pa., wanted to play host to a March Madness party for subscribers of his online sports newsletter. But the local Hooters had a broadcast of only one live tournament game. Enter CBS and the NCAA, which have streamed all games live on the Internet for free with its March Madness on Demand service.

“I set up my laptop computer on the table, made use of the Hooters wireless network and put a second game online. Very cool,” said Youngerman, who also watched games online at home and at the office. “If you’re going to host a sports party at a sports bar for readers of your sports newsletter, it helps to bring the game, and CBS helped me bring the game.”

Youngerman is not the only happy hoops fan. More than 4 million visitors logged on to watch games during the tournament’s first four days, downloading about 14 million streams of live video. Those figures make the NCAA tournament the most watched live event ever shown on the Internet.

About 530,000 people registered for the service on the tournament’s first day alone.

“This has been successful by every measure we could use,” said LeslieAnne Wade, spokeswoman for CBS Sports.

The service, which had been offered the past three years for a fee, faced potential problems based on the history of such free events. In 1999 and 2000, a live Webcast of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show crashed after too many users flooded the site. But technology has improved since, and high-speed Internet connections are far more prevalent.

“That one didn’t work, but this clearly was not like that,” said Andrei Jezierski, founder of i2 Partners, a New York-based technology consulting company. “It seems like this one went over extremely well. They seem to have done a good job of predicting capacity and regulating capacity.”

Much of the credit for the success can go to College Sports Television, which specializes in broadcasting events over the Internet. CBS acquired CSTV last year for about $325 million.

Users reported waiting no more than five minutes in a queue before getting access to the online broadcasts, and some users who logged on early were connected immediately. At the peak time Thursday afternoon, 150,000 were in line waiting to watch the games.

“As a former George Mason season ticket holder who now lives in an area where the only option is the ACC, it was great to be able to watch the entire George Mason game against Michigan State,” said Derek Smith, a Charlotte, N.C., resident. “I also enjoyed the ability to switch between games that I wanted to watch and not [the ones] that CBS wanted me to watch.”

There are still some imperfections to the service. The feeds for games shown online were generally 25 to 30 seconds behind those broadcast on television, and the service is only available on newer computers with a high-speed connection. Also, any game being shown in the users’ local viewing area is blacked out on the Internet.

But NCAA and CBS executives said the popularity of the service illustrates how enormous the tournament has become. It is by far the most popular NCAA sporting event, and CBS is in the middle of a $6 billion contract to carry the event through 2010.

“The growth and reach of the NCAA basketball championship is evident in every measure we see,” NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt said. “The addition of the free March Madness on Demand package has elevated fan following to another level.”

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