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    CBS, Microsoft: Brilliant NCAA Tournament Silverlight strategy

    Well, except for a couple of close final games (sorry A-man about the Illini loss), it was a pretty uneventful first day in the 2009 NCAA March Madness tourney (you know it can't have been too interesting when your girlfriend correctly selects every game but one - she feels your pain A-man!).

    So I figured instead of discussing the actual games, I'd quickly mention an interesting side issue surrounding CBS Sports' online coverage of the tourney.

    First of all, kudos to Microsoft for being the exclusive provider of the software to run the high-quality version of the video feed. Ironically enough, because I use Firefox and not Microsoft's IE browser, the standard Flash-based video player at 550 kbps streaming wasn't even an option for me. I had to use the high-quality Silverlight version, which can stream as fast as 1.5 Mbps.

    Teaming up with CBS for the tournament is a brilliant move on the part of Microsoft, which is trying to catch up from way behind its main competitor in the video delivery space, Adobe and its Flash technology. Obviously, I don't know how much Microsoft is paying for this right, but I've already somewhat reluctantly downloaded Silverlight on three different computers in my house. Last year, 4.8 million people watched at least part of the NCAA tournament online, so it should end up providing a huge quick way for Microsoft to close the gap.

    And I have to admit, I've been pretty impressed with the Silverlight software, both in terms of usability and streaming quality. It's a quite solid experience all around.

    One of the Silverlight features that I'm not the biggest fan of is that the software disables the ability to switch games during most commercial breaks. It actually took me a long time to realize that's why the 'Live Games' button wasn't working at certain points. I'm kind of slow!

    I may not like it, but forcing their users to watch at least some ads is a brilliant move on the part of CBS. And it's probably fair when you think about it because advertiser subsidies are the only way content like this is going to be continued to be offered for free. At least the feature isn't totally obnoxious; if you switch games only to find out that the other game you've moved to is in the middle of its own commercial break, the software is smart enough to allow you to switch games again.

    CBS also did a smart thing by always keeping its advertising partners' logos displayed at the top of the screen even when you expand the video to 'full screen' mode.

    Now obviously in the day and age of Tivo, when people's patience with marketing content wears thin quickly, I'd rather advertisers try and capture viewers' attention through clever and relevant marketing and not brute technological force, But in this case, it's not like the viewers have a choice - if you want to watch the tourney, this is your only option, so CBS and Microsoft are wise to take advantage of that exclusivity.

    P.S. Apparently, CBS and Microsoft are also working with YouTube to offer its live broadcasts. Also pretty innovative.

    P.P.S. Can anyone help me out on a techie issue - when my girlfriend watches the tourney on her Samsung NC10 netbook, the bottom of the video is cut off, so she can't see the scores nor access the software's controls. Is that because of the 10" screen, and is there anything she can do about that?


    Living without television, I occasionally watch streaming video from the networks. They usually have a single sponsor for any given show, and every ad break shows just one 30-second spot. You can't skip the commercials, but the total ad time seems to be less than that of watching TV. There's only one problem. IT'S THE SAME DAMN COMMERCIAL OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Often, it's a particulary annoying commercial for a bad comedy, e.g. Chuck or most recently, I Love You Man. And there's no escape. It's like Groundhog Day without the happy ending. Is it really that difficult to have multiple sponsors with different commercials?

    Rant aside, a number of advertisers on these shows have been experimenting with interactive ads. Sprint has a snowball fight game. You have to sit there and watch your player get repeatedly pelted by snowballs for 30 seconds or else give in the pressure and interrupt your show to indulge Sprint in a sponsored snowball fight. I managed to fight the urge, but it wasn't easy.

    In answer to Ms. Deadman's technical problem, these videos usually offer a full screen mode that adjusts to the size of your screen. But I haven't streamed a show with Silverlight before.


    one way to get around the forced ad feature - as any college basketball fan knows, the games stop for ads after the first whistle after every 4 minute interval. as soon as you hear the whistle and before the game goes to commercial, you can switch the game.

    Ok, now this is more like it. damn, this tournament never fails. of course, i've got like four pools, so each game i totally dont know who to root for. so ill just keep rooting for these great games - ah, what a sporting event.

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