Since 2006, every NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament game could be accessed online for free. Starting this year, having March Madness available on any and all mobile devices will cost you -- if you don't already subscribe to cable or satellite.
Last year CBS sold portions of the NCAA tournament to Time Warner's cable channels TBS, TNT and TrueTV. The deal ensures that every contest is available nationally, but beginning this year, non-cable subscribers will pay a one-time fee of $3.99 to view all the action online or on mobile devices. Cable subscribers will be able to use their TV account to log in.
Actually "March Madness on Demand" wasn't always free. Ten years ago you had to pay a $15 fee in order to watch all the games online. In 2006, CBS decided to go advertiser-supported online and offered MMOD for free.
Time Warner estimates that 77 million homes will be able to watch the games for free, leaving another estimated 23 million homes who would need to pay the small fee. Last year viewership was up 14% on the first weekend with the expanded cable coverage, but both CBS and Time Warner saw the online viewership as an untapped financial resource.
Online viewing was up 17% in 2011, with viewers racking up almost 14 million hours of watching online.
Time Warner understand that their future depends on the "TV Everywhere" concept where viewing online or on any mobile device is authorized only if you are paying for cable, satellite or telco at home. Cable giants hope that by bundling services like this they will slow down "cord cutting" as viewers drift away from their services.
As for the worker bees who will be sneaking peeks at the games next Thursday and Friday -- fear not, the "Boss Button" survives.