To coincide with the kick-off of March Madness — which is one of the most online-watched sports events in America — we’ve assembled the below timeline, which shows the evolution of online viewership of the Tournament. As you can see, the timeline begins in 1996 with a simple web page — the same year Congress passed a landmark Telecom Act that referenced the Internet just once.
Timeline: Evolution of March Madness Consumption
1996: The NCAA creates the first online computer page for the Final Four.
2003: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports, and the NCAA first partner to produce NCAA March Madness on Demand, the official online platform of the tournament offering basketball live feeds, as well as on demand video streaming.
2005: CBS begins a two-year deal with CSTV.com for exclusive Internet video streaming rights for out-of-market game coverage for the first 58 games of the championship.
2006: March Madness on Demand sees 19 million video streams and 5 million visits.
2007: Due to 2006 traffic, CBS Sportsline doubles its bandwidth capacity for March Madness on Demand, which offers free live Internet streams of each game of the first three rounds of the championship.
2008: CBSSports.com and March Madness on Demand launch a developer platform that allows more than 200 websites to carry live video of the championship online, including sites such as ESPN.com, Yahoo, SI.com, YouTube and Facebook. CBS allows users to watch all 63 games that it telecasts during the tournament for the first time, and sees the total number of unique visitors from first-round games through the regional championship games grow from 1.75 million to 4.33 million.
2011: Akamai’s global network is used to provide live and on-demand streaming video across broadband and mobile applications. Akamai delivers live games and on demand content to more than 1.9 million unique visitors per day on broadband sites and more than 680,000 daily visitors to mobile applications. By the event’s end, there is a 63 percent increase in total visits across the 2011 NCAA March Madness on Demand broadband and mobile products, and a 17 percent increase in online video consumption throughout the tournament compared to the previous year. This year, for the first time, live streaming video of every game of the tournament is available online.
2012: The Android phone is added as a viewing platform for NCAA March Madness Live (formerly March Madness on Demand). NCAA.com/March Madness Live, CBSSports.com, SI.com, TruTV.com, TNT.tv and TBS.com deliver over 220 million visits across online and mobile platforms. This marks an 11% increase from 198 million in 2011.
What’s in store for 2013? The timeline indicates that consumer demand to watch March Madness online, particularly via mobile devices, will likely continue increasing exponentially, so we’re crossing our fingers for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) action to accelerate the Internet Protocol (IP) Transition and competitive, open spectrum auctions that will quickly bring more spectrum to market. A move to next-generation networks and sound federal spectrum policy will be wins for consumers and the economy.