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CBS, CSTV hope idea clicks

Webcast deal seen as a springboard

These days, it seems everything related to TV and broadband (1) comes back to the Super Bowl in one way or another and (2) represents someone trying to sell us something.

Take Thursday's announcement that College Sports TV has cut a deal with CBS's Sportsline.com to provide streaming video (webcasts) of out-of-market games from the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Cost for the service will be $19.95. Early-bird fans (also known as "office pool participants") who sign up by Feb. 8 can get the service for half-price. The webcasts will include all games not shown in your area by CBS through the regional semifinals.

How does the Super Bowl relate to this story?

"We think this event will be the catalyst for people to upgrade their computers and broadband service, just as the Super Bowl has become the poster event for selling high-definition TVs," said Brian Bedol, president of CSTV.

If that's the case, it'll be a success. Comcast is calling this the Super Bowl of the high-definition DVR (digital video recorder).

"We've doubled the number of DVR subscribers in the past two months," said Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman. "People can watch the game on their own terms, watching replays at their own speed and pausing the action for food breaks, then resuming watching the game. It's television on your own terms."

Bedol hopes for similar growth with the basketball tournament.

"This is the most popular event in college sports," he said. "CSTV launched in March 2003, right after the tournament. Less than two years later, we have the opportunity to distribute it. People can't always find the game they want on free TV. We hope this will be the `Perfect Storm' for broadband."

With 25 million-30 million homes wired for broadband and people not as hesitant to do business (i.e. willing to use a credit card) online as they were even two years ago, the time may be right to try such a service. As Bedol noted, two years ago, broadband penetration was less than half of what it is now and the speed of the service and quality of the interface for streaming video wasn't what it is today.

"Our goal is try and put the tournament in front of as many viewers as possible and maximize revenues," said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports. "Especially in the first round, a lot of people in offices will want to be following the games in the noon-5 p.m. window."

McManus said the multiyear agreement was a combination of a guarantee and revenue-sharing, with the partners hoping there will be more and more to share in the future.

CSTV will block out the CBS ads and insert its own on the webcasts. That brings up the issues of "ambush ads" and conflicts with exclusive NCAA sponsors. "We will protect our major corporate partners," said CBS's McManus. "The opportunity for ambush marketing by competitors of the NCAA's partners doesn't exist. But the potential for additional revenues does exist." CBS shopped the webcasting rights among "the usual suspects," but ESPN wasn't one of them. "They're a competitor to CBS Sportsline and it didn't make sense to license rights to a direct competitor," said McManus. From the CSTV perspective, it gains a higher profile with ESPN poised to launch ESPNU next month.

Bedol said CSTV is conducting tests on "bandwidth constraints" hoping to enable "viewers to watch multiple images simultaneously."

But how will employers feel about workers trying to track the early-round games in the office?

Marathon day
If you want the NFL this weekend, you'll have to settle for The NFL Network's replay of all 38 Super Bowl highlight films, starting at 6 a.m. today. New England fans will have to stay up late to catch the Patriots' victorious highlights: Super Bowl XXXVI (Patriots-Rams) is on at 2:30 a.m. and Super Bowl XXXVIII (Patriots-Panthers) is the final broadcast, at 3:30 . . . Laura Behnke started at NECN's sports department Wednesday, just in time to get left minding the shop as colleagues Chris Collins and Mike Giardi departed for the Super Bowl . . . Arena Football resumes on NBC today with a doubleheader: Philadelphia-Austin at noon and Chicago-Dallas at 3. "In a world in which most major networks lose money on most of their major properties, when you get a property that can make a little money, that's where you want to be," said NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer . . . Channel 7 sports producer Fred Nutter won his debut fight at 152 pounds in the Golden Gloves a week ago, but aggravated a shoulder injury in the process and will have to concentrate on the station's Super Bowl and sports coverage this week instead of a hoped-for second-round bout. So much for the envisioned headline: "Channel 7's sports coverage packs a punch." . . . The University of Connecticut men's and women's basketball games against Notre Dame today are televised. The men are at South Bend, Ind., at 3:45 p.m. on Channel 4, the women at home on ESPN2 at 7 . . . Comcast's free preview of NBA League Pass, which offers up to 40 out-of-market games each week, continues through today . . . CSTV does a "One2One" special with former UConn and present WNBA star Diana Taurasi tonight at 6:30 . . . Tuesday on "Red Sox Inside Out" (NESN, 6:30 p.m.), Sox general manager Theo Epstein joins the Globe's Gordon Edes on the guest list . . . HBO's "Inside the NFL" (Wednesday, 10 p.m.) features a segment on the five men who've covered all 38 Super Bowls: Ed Pope (Miami Herald), Jerry Izenberg (Newark Star Ledger), Bob Oates (Los Angeles Times), Jerry Green (Detroit News), and Dave Klein (e-Giants.net).

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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