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Open Letter to CBS Sportsline

Dear Keepers of the March Madness Tournament Flame,

We the college basketball-loving public appreciate all you’ve done for us. You offer satellite packages with all the games in the men’s college basketball tournament. We can go to Las Vegas and watch and bet on all the games. And now, in your crowning moment, you’ve given us all the games in streaming video live online — for free! (You do, however, black out the local game on TV.)

We can guess that you’ll easily get the 200,000 simultaneous streams of video watched by fans like us online, with plenty more people waiting patiently to get on. But, hey, did you ever wonder exactly who those 200,000 people were? Could it be that they are people we count on to do work during the tournament, perhaps our military leaders or the guy who would push the nuclear bomb button in case of (another) war? Or what about our emergency medical personnel or the computer geeks who keep the Nasdaq stock exchange humming?

According to this scary story in today’s Washington Post, workplaces around the nation are grappling with the problem of workers watching the tourney online instead of working. Some places will block access to your March Madness on Demand site. Others will make sure their workers aren’t whooping it up too loud on company time.

But this last number is stark: Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that the tourney will cost the U.S. economy $3.8 billion in lost productivity. And if you haven’t been paying attention lately, our economy could really use every last nickel in productivity we’ve got.

CBS Sportsline honchos, which side are you on? Are you with the college basketball fanatics or the economy of our great country? I would have to say the former, with your “Boss Button” which will help these fanatics — of which I am one — keep their lost productivity a secret from their bosses. If they are watching a college hoops game on their computer, and the boss comes by to, say, get the numbers on the Murphy account, they can push the “Boss Button” and up comes a generic spreadsheet that probably looks very similar to the Murphy account. Insidious!

All we ask is that you save us from ourselves, CBS Sportsline. Limit access to the live video streams online to 10,000 unemployed slackers or criminals who would be glued to their computer screens instead of out doing petty crime. Or put up 10 pages of registration to get in to watch the tourney, or start charging hefty sums to get in. Or better yet, close down the streams online during the work day, or create a “Boss Notification Button” that would automatically check for permission from our bosses before we could watch live streams of the hoops tournament.

We love you for all you’ve done, and we know this service has all the markings of a fabulous advance in sports-watching technology. But stop for a moment and think about all the lost productivity our country will experience in towns such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or Austin, Texas, or even Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Have mercy on us, and close down those live streams of the NCAA basketball tournament, before our president calls for a state of emergency that we don’t even hear about.

Basketball Fanatics of America

UPDATE: As of 12:30 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, I couldn’t even get into the site to watch live video and was 101,776th in line to get in. If I had registered earlier in the week, and was a VIP member, I would have got in within five minutes. That means at least 200,000 people are watching the tourney video, with 100,000 more watching a “Waiting Room Meter” to see when they’d get in.

UPDATE (3/31/06): comScore Networks proved my point entirely, with this press release about how popular March Madness on Demand was during work hours.

“comScore data show that the live [online] coverage delivered 14.9 million streams during the first two days (Thursday and Friday, March 16-17) of the first round of games, 77 percent of which originated from work locations. Over the four days of the first two rounds (March 16 – 19), a total of 16.4 million streams were delivered.”

There’s no denying just how popular the online video was for workers. Now I’m wating to see the research on how much U.S. productivity dropped during those two days…

UPDATE (3/17/07): A year later, I do a review of the MMOD service and its quirky free-camera association between games. The unskippable ads are obnoxious but overall not a bad experience for free. Chime in with your own thoughts on that post, and what you’ve experienced so far.