Online March Madness coverage will include a pay option

Jeff Eisenberg

Fans who have grown accustomed to watching every NCAA tournament game online for free the past few years may not be pleased with Thursday's announcement that Turner Sports is introducing a fee-based component this year.

It will cost $3.99 for viewers to buy an all-access pass that gives them the ability to toggle back and forth between games on March Madness Live, the rebranded version of March Madness On Demand.

The good news is it's not as bad as it sounds for anyone who's a basic cable or satellite subscriber and doesn't mind not being able to switch from game to game as seamlessly.

Tournament games on TBS, TNT or Tru-TV will still stream for free on the respective channel's website on an authenticated basis, meaning that fans will only need to be able to prove they get that channel in order to watch at home or from work. Furthermore, any games shown on CBS will remain free online via

"If folks authenticate, they're not paying anything whatsoever," said Matthew Hong, senior vice president and general manager of operations for Turner Sports. "We are offering the March Madness Live product paid so if you haven't authenticated or you're at work on Thursday of the second round and don't have your authentication credentials with you, you still have access.

"What you're asking is if the $3.99 product is intended to generate revenue? No. It's really another way for people to get access to the games this year if they're not authenticated."

In addition to the ability to jump between games easily, the March Madness Live product will feature higher quality live video streams across platforms, live statistics and social media integration. Asked if he had any concerns that the revamped online coverage could slow the record growth March Madness on Demand has experienced in recent years, Hong said he didn't think that would happen.

"There's a step that exists this year that didn't exist last year, but at the same time people's consumption on digital in general continues to grow," Hong said. "We're on Android this year, whereas we didn't have an Android mobile solution last year so that will make it more accessible to people. The goal is to have our numbers grow by making it as available as possible through as many screens as possible."