If you’re a college basketball fan who tried last year to watch NCAA Tournament games on your TV without a cable subscription, you probably recall that the March Madness Live app was no help to you. It only worked on phones and tablets. Even Apple TV owners were blocked from using AirPlay to push games from their iPhones and iPads to their TVs. The only way to get TBS and TNT games on your TV was to subscribe to Sling TV.
NCAA March Madness Live will provide college fans with the ultimate digital destination for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship allowing direct access to all the tournament action across more platforms than ever before. For this year’s NCAA Tournament, the NCAA March Madness Live app – developed in partnership with the NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports – will be available across 12 platforms including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku® players and Roku TV™ models. Additionally, NCAA March Madness Live will offer fans a redesigned GameCenter experience, Google Cast and Airplay support, enhanced video on demand capabilities and an updated Bracket Challenge Game for further access to tournament content.
This is a wonderful thing for cord cutters and set-top box owners. Having all the games within one app that works on just about every device makes viewing much easier. There’s no need to worry about what channel each game is on — not that CBS and Turner made that difficult, of course, but this simplifies things even further.
These app enhancements, however, might not be so great for Sling TV.
I’ve written in the past about why cable networks don’t crack down on the sharing of TV Everywhere passwords. It’s a gray area, to be sure, but the grayness of it hasn’t stopped cord cutters from sharing passwords with friends or family who have cable. Some network execs have even said publicly that they’re not concerned with the practice. (Perhaps if more people used TV Everywhere, that might change.)
That means anyone who has a shared cable password will have much less incentive to sign up for Sling TV, which carries TBS and TNT, and which announced it would offer a free preview of TruTV in March as part of its core $20/month package, a move made specifically for the NCAA Tournament. Even those who had planned to sign up for a month just to watch basketball now have a potential alternative, and fewer sign-ups for Sling TV means not only less revenue, but fewer potential customers who would try the service and decide they like it enough to keep it after March Madness is over.
That seems like it would be a bad thing for Turner, too, given that more than TBS and TNT would lose out on carriage fee revenue from password sharing. Then again, Turner execs might not be losing sleep over this. CBS and Turner pay the NCAA an average of $771 million per year for TV rights to the tourney, but they have collected more than $1 billion per year in advertising revenue since 2012, and this year, their ad inventory is sold out and bringing in even more money than last year. Some of those ads will surely be shown on the March Madness app, which means even those viewers who access the app with a shared password will help CBS and Turner make a profit on this event.
Some college basketball fans can live with that. Some might decide to give Sling TV a go anyway and try out its new user interface, but others might decide they don’t want to ship their money to ESPN, CNN, Freeform, and other channels they don’t plan to watch. Likewise, Sling TV might not want customers who only stick around for a month and cancel. Sling TV collects revenue from short-timers, too, though, and the enhanced March Madness app means some of that revenue will likely be lost. How big a problem that proves to be for Sling TV remains to be seen.