Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Triplecast Lives Again...In March Madness

For the first time, basketball fans can literally see every game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The new deal with the NCAA allows fans to choose between CBS, truTV, TBS and TNT to see their favorite teams, or at least a game that's more interesting than the others.
The only odd thing about this is truTV actually being a sports channel for a few days. It's about as strange as Lifetime carrying the WNBA for a while.
So why spread the NCAA basketball wealth on cable, rather than subtly suggest that getting a special channel on DirecTV to see all of the games would be better?
Two words: Olympic Triplecast.
I'm an old man, compared to the average age of people who write blogs. I remember when Pay-Per-View channels were new, when you could still hear what was happening even if the picture was scrambled. That was 1992, and it was the year NBC decided to offer live coverage of the Summer Olympics in Barcelona for a fee. Remember the Red, White and Blue Channels? They expected people who just HAD to see the Olympics live to pay a fee to get that chance.
Well, that didn't work. In fact, they discounted the price almost immediately, and even simulcasted the pictures on CNBC. That's why NBC decided to just spread the events to its cable channels four years later.

However, the idea of letting cable channels pick up the less popular Olympic events did work out for NBC. For one thing, it helped curling pick up fans in the past three Winter Olympics.
When CBS approved a new deal with the NCAA for the men's basketball tournament, it realized that whipping around from one game to another is no way to cover a billion-dollar event. So, they set up their own "quadruple-cast", with TBS, TNT and truTV carrying games at the same time. It also came up with a bar on top to show the scores of the other games happening on the other channels. Turner Sports and CBS know fans will be turning to their favorite teams or the most exciting game, but they still benefit.
So, why not offer this to, say, new satellite subscribers of DirecTV, or maybe a premium cable channel like the NFL RedZone?
Because still remember how much of a flop the Triplecast was. If you can offer people a special event, and avoid charging them for it aside from commercials, do it!That's one reason why the World Series and the Super Bowl will be on free TV forever. Anyone who tries to turn them to PPV events would be considered worse than al-Qaeda.

So, the idea of the Triplecast does live on, but in the best way: not charging fans for something they'll figure out a way to see for free.
After all, who needs a Triplecast when there's Twitter, Facebook, and certain ways to see PPV stuff for free?

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