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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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How Will ‘Spulu’ Intersect With March Madness? It’s Complicated

  • The new streaming alliance involving TNT Sports adds to the tournament streaming choices.
  • The annual unrest surrounding TruTV provides a window into potential consumer reaction.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There will be a lot more streaming choices for March Madness fans due to some big moves that TNT Sports is making now and over the coming year. But that won’t necessarily ease the potential for consumer confusion.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT Sports plans to offer the games it has for March Madness on its sister streaming platform, Max, in keeping with an accelerating plan in recent months to make live sports more of a focal point on that general-interest service. However, the Max offering will not include the March Madness games shown on CBS as part of the joint rights plan for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in place since 2011.

Such a split approach will also be in place for March Madness next year, when part of the tournament will be shown for the first time on the much-discussed new streaming joint venture, including TNT Sports, ESPN, and Fox. Because CBS is not involved in that alliance, that network’s March Madness games will not be on the service, which is scheduled to debut in the fall.

As a result, the entire streaming lineup for March Madness moving forward likely looks like this:

  • March Madness Live: All games
  • Max: All TNT Sports games (through the Max B/R Sports Add-On tier) 
  • Paramount+: All CBS Sports games
  • Beginning in 2025, “Spulu” or whatever the final name for the streaming alliance becomes: All TNT Sports games 

“Part of what we’re all trying to do—whether it’s the joint venture that we announced or individual companies doing their own streaming products—is to reach consumers where they are,” Luis Silberwasser, TNT Sports chairman and CEO, said Tuesday in response to a Front Office Sports question. “There are consumers that like the big bundle, other consumers watching sports in individual apps, and I think our job is to be able to offer our sports to the most [amount of people] and try to make it easy on them.”

Despite TNT Sports’ attempt to meet consumers on their own terms, there remains a distinct possibility of some fans expecting to see a certain game on one of those latter three streaming platforms and not being able to find it. One need only look at the online unrest each year surrounding TruTV—a WBD basic cable network that is core to the coverage of the tournament, particularly in the early rounds, but is otherwise ignored by many fans—13 years into that shared TNT Sports–CBS broadcast plan.

To that end, Silberwasser acknowledged that with the varied options to watch March Madness games online, “our marketing teams are going to have to think hard about that and what’s the best way to communicate that message.”

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