CBS' full-court press drives 'em to Madness

Cross-property push equals big viewer gains

NEW YORK -- is reporting a sizable spike in traffic for its ever-popular March Madness on Demand service.

For the first two rounds of the tournament, which ran from Thursday to Sunday, the division claimed 5.6 million unique visitors to its MMOD player and 6.5 million hours of video and audio played. Those figures represent 60% and 71% jumps over last year, respectively.

CBS has made a number of tweaks to the program over its four years of existence, increasing the number of users who can access it, removing blackouts of locally televised games and adding new platforms such as the iPhone. senior vp and GM Jason Kint primarily attributes the increase to a marketing plan that promoted the service throughout all CBS Interactive properties, which, for the first time this year, includes CNET.

"The game changer this year was CBS Interactive marketing it in a way they never have before," he said.

Kint said Monday that the company will hit its pre-tournament projection of $30 million of dedicated online revenue for March Madness.

Both CBS' digital and traditional ratings are up this year -- television ratings were up in the mid-single digits for the first three days of the tournament -- but like any conglom, the company still must figure out how to balance digital growth with traditional viewership as it moves forward.

Though March Madness on Demand tends to wane in popularity as the tourney moves along and a larger percentage of games can be seen on a linear network, execs said that they hoped to keep momentum going with other programming.

"The value shifts as you get further in the tournament," Kint said. "It goes from streaming games to watercooler stuff like community features and the bracket (competition)."

Indeed, the most popular game on MMOD, a matchup between No. 2 seed Memphis and 15th-seeded Cal St. Northridge, took place on the opening day of the tournament on Thursday. Though the game was not a high-profile matchup and did not result in an upset, it offered second-half drama and, more importantly, took place at a time when fewer people have access to traditional television sets.