It’s game day! March Madness fans sure did miss all the action, fun and rivalry last year when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NCAA tournament for the first time in history. But have no fear! March Madness Live, produced jointly by Turner and CBS, is back and eager to make up for lost time. By the looks of it, audiences are in for the most interactive digital experience of the tournament yet.
With MML now on a record number of 18 platforms, the MML team completely redesigned the product experience this year in order to meet the fans where they are–which is everywhere.
“We still have incredible video experiences for fans and the streaming of all the games in the tournament,” said Turner Sports Senior Vice President of Digital Hania Poole. “But we’ve also put emphasis on this being a second screen and companion type of experience where we really feel like we have a differentiated user experience as it relates to interactivity, how you follow your bracket choices, which game should mean more to you as it relates to the competition if you’re a bracket player. And all sorts of other things we have in store for this year.”
Turner and CBS will provide live coverage of all 67 games from the tournament across four national TV networks–TBS, CBS, TNT, and truTV. Poole reiterated that video was still very much the “cornerstone” of the fan experience. At the same time, she continued, the MML team is closely evaluating the kinds of meaningful experiences that fans want on digital platforms.
“Frankly, it doesn’t mean the live game doesn’t matter. It just means the people inside those experiences and how they connect with each other are starting to matter even more. And you are going to see social across our digital ecosystem play a larger and large role.”
The MML team came out of 2019 with its largest live audience in history. The consumption habits the team observed from the tournament inspired them to move MML into the connected device space as much as possible. So, in preparation for the redesign, the MML team launched a research study to find out what audiences were demanding out of digital experiences amid the evolving media and technology landscape.
And while 2020 would have offered fans an exciting experience, the overhaul of the app was not due to launch until 2021. “Having that to look forward to helped make last year just a little bit easier to swallow. We put so much blood, sweat, and tears into this that to not have the tournament was hard. But it was a good thing to have this to pivot to,” said Matthew Mullen, director of product, NCAA, Turner Sports.
This year, Turner and CBS have upped the ante and almost doubled the video quality on connected TV platforms. The team is also exploring the voice space, having added Google Home for the first time.
The redesign of MML, which was created to integrate seamlessly on every platform with the same consistent look and feel, features an all-new Game Center experience for users to easily navigate through live games, read news and highlights, take quizzes and polls and watch studio commentary.
The bracket challenge game is also back, as is the humorous “Boss Button,” albeit reimagined for 2021. (In previous years, the “Boss Button,” would allow users to conceal the live video of the games behind a fake excel document. This time, hitting the Boss Button will bring up a fake Zoom call with college mascots–all too fitting for today’s remote working environment.)
“We’re excited to see how [the new MML] performs and to see how this may drive a different style of live video engagement,” said Mullen.
So get ready. It’s going to be a riveting couple of weeks and we couldn’t be more excited.