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March Madness to test live streaming limits again in 2017

Basketball Splash

In past years, the start of NCAA March Madness has brought some streaming services to their knees. What can we expect from the 2017 tournament? This Thursday should set records again, according to Conviva.

Last year’s tournament set records

From the very first, NCAA March Madness has been a big deal online, pushing the boundaries of the Internet’s ability to deliver live content. For example, last year on the opening day of full competition Turner Sports delivered 22.5 million live video streams and 4.9 million live hours. Both numbers were records for the tournament. Facebook and Twitter generated 1.6 million video viewers, up 62% year-over-year.

Ed Haslam Conviva

Ed Haslam, Conviva

The top live streamed game was Duke vs. UNC Wilmington , which generated 5.5 million video streams.

In the opening week of last year’s tournament, Conviva reports it saw a spike of almost 2X the average number of video plays across all its publishers. The reason, according to CMO of Conviva Ed Haslam, was likely March Madness since in the following month usage settled back to the pre-March number.

Live events difficult to deliver online, but worth the effort

Live events can be particularly troublesome for online video providers. It is very hard to predict exactly how many online viewers are likely to show up. Guess too high and the service can end up paying a lot for streaming capacity it didn’t need. Guess too low and there can be a lot of very unhappy customers.

Sling TV struggled with the 2015 NCAA tournament, with around a 1000 users experiencing quality and outage problems. In 2016, however, things went much more smoothly, despite a massive increase in viewership. Sling TV reported a 1,140% increase in viewership of the title game from tip-off to final buzzer. The company also reported a record number of subscription signups the day before the Final Four games were played. It also said that March 2016 was by far its biggest month ever for new memberships.

However, Sling TV may not see quite such a surge in viewer sign ups this year. The main channels carrying games are TNT, TBS, truTV, and CBS. Though Sling TV has all but CBS, that is a crucial omission: all the final four games and the championship will be carried live on CBS. PlayStation Vue could be a big beneficiary this year, as the service carries all four channels airing the games.*

Expectations for March Madness 2017

Ed Haslam is expecting another year of 2X growth in the number of plays. There are reasons to believe he may well be right.

Millennials, particularly the younger college-age group, are a prime audience for the NCAA tournament. Reach of the connected TV and smartphone has increased greatly in that age group over the last year. Nielsen says that smartphone video viewers in the 18-34-year-olds increased from 53% to 60% between Q2 2015 and Q2 2016. Connected TV device users increased from 49% to 52% over the same period.

mobile device streaming outside of the home 2017With the increasing availability of uncapped data plans and zero rated video streaming, mobile consumption could see a huge surge this year. Consumers are increasingly comfortable watching live sports outside of the home. A recent nScreenMedia free white paper shows that streaming devices that are never taken outside the home see 19% of video starts for live streams. Devices used outside the home see 25% of video starts for live streams.

Finally, usage of authenticated streaming has increased greatly. Almost a third of pay subscribers said they used their operators online offering on their connected device in Q4 2016, from 23% one year earlier.

Why it matters

NCAA basketball has set records in the past and looks likely to do it again this year.

Connected TV and smartphone, two favorite streaming platforms, have seen penetration grow strongly.

Mobile operators have reintroduced unlimited data plans, and some are zero-rating streaming video services.

Use of pay TV operator portals for viewing has increased dramatically over the last year.

*PS Vue does not have all CBS local channels. You may not be able to watch the local CBS affiliate in your area.

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