Okay, Im a college basketball nut, and for anyone like me, March is the best television time of the year, especially when your favorite team makes it to the NCAA tournament.
For years, CBS has had sole coverage of the tournament, meaning there is one TV channel for 48 games in the first four days and a lot of anxiety on my end over whether the specific games I want to see will be televised. If all teams are equal, odds are they wont or that Ill see only a few minutes of the game Im interested in.
Its a stupid system and a severe underutilization of content since all of the tournament games are covered by broadcast crews with cameras and sound. It leaves a lot of money on the table and takes fans away from their favorite team during the most important game of the season.
But this also has made for a great test bed on the Internet, where CBS has offered all the games in broadband streams for the last few years with mixed success. This year the network is doing better than ever (with a service that probably looks a lot like the future of television) but they also missed some key plays, so here is my Web content management advice to them:
Leverage advertising: The network did a good job of matching the Web page banner advertising to the commercials running live in the broadcast streams. Some advertisers, including Coca-Cola and Sonic, even took a low-tech "You-Tube" approach in spots that matched the imperfect Web streams well. It was an instant opportunity to one-up television coverage with live polls, chats, surveys, contests and giveaways, and CBS missed a huge opportunity to demonstrate the interactivity of the Web and provide sponsors with unique information about their customers. Instead, banner ads simply led to the usual home pages of advertisers.
Leverage content: CBS also could have beat its television coverage on the Web by providing additional statistics and factoids on the game matchups around the video player. The network already has plenty of content readily available from cbssports.com, but it left the pages static. Again, they missed a huge opportunity for interaction and an opportunity to engage and learn more about their customers.
Manage expectations: There was plenty of bandwidth Friday for regular and high-quality streams, but the HQ stream failed Sunday and led to a message that read There was a problem with the game you selected, please make another selection. Does CBS really think a Michigan fan would be just as happy to watch Ohio State play or vice versa? You wouldnt think so, but treating the games as commodities was an insult to fans.
Provide transparency: At the same time the HQ streams were overloaded or broken, there was no notice that the regular quality stream was working fine. Fans tend to look at free video streams as value-add services and appreciate it when a network gives them something that's not a part of regular coverage. Even a lesser-quality feed would turn a howling sports fan into a satisfied customer, so why not tell them it was available?
Provide context: During Friday games, the announcers oddly sounded like they were in an isolated booth and very little sound could be heard from the crowd or the game floor, which is a huge part of the game experience. This was a surprising mistake since CBS had a built-in advantage with a full-quality audio in the arenas, which would have greatly improved the broadcast.
Overall, Id give the network a B- for its Web coverage (versus a C- last year), largely because it beefed up server capacity to provide better and steadier video streams of games, which is why the audience tunes in after all. In the past, streams were poorer and very prone to drop, inevitably at critical moments, which left March basketball fans like me screaming at their computer. The network learned that if you cant deliver what you promise, youre better off not delivering it at all rather than make disappointed fans even angrier.
But server capacity and bandwidth are just boxes in a room. Now that video streams are an expectation, CBS should turn the service into a better revenue stream as well and quickly move to manage other aspects of the customer experience on the Web. Its a chance to rethink old habits and an early, low-cost look at writing that is already on the wall. The future of the television screen is going to be a two-way experience.