Opinion: March Madness live stream provides blueprint for sports streaming

After a largely successful run at the NCAA Tournament, are Netflix and Google the future of watching sports?

College basketball fans were given a unique opportunity this March when the NCAA announced that it would stream every game of the NCAA Tournament online through the "March Madness Live" streaming service, hosted by Turner Sports.

The results? A record 80.7 million viewers streamed the games over the course of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a 19 percent increase on the service's success in 2014, with a 17 percent increase in hours of live video streaming.

The national title game between Duke and Wisconsin itself drew an average of 28.3 million viewers on CBS Monday, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.

NCAA's "March Madness Live" streaming service set a record with more than 80 million streams during the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

According to the NCAA, a record-setting 3.4 million of those viewers came from online streams.

With over 6 million streams total for this weekend's Final Four, it's easy to call the "March Madness Live" format a success.

But could it work for other sports?

ESPN has toyed with the idea in creating WatchESPN, which allowed fans to watch live ESPN content for free with their cable subscription. Instantly fans could watch their favorite ESPN shows, along with live NBA, NFL and MLB action.

It proved quite effective when initially launched in 2011, and it grew instantly to have viewers watch 101.9 million minutes of video on smartphones through the WatchESPN app from November 2012 and October 2013.

Prior to the NBA agreeing to a nine-year television rights extension with ESPN and TNT in October 2014, Bill Simmons of Grantland.com suggested in his podcast, the B.S. Report, that companies such as Netflix and Google throw their hat in the ring to try their hand at streaming live NBA games.

With YouTube, Google's streaming service, having more than 1 billion users and the NBA YouTube account having more than 6 million subscribers, I'd say go for it. YouTube has expanded its live streaming capabilities to allow people to have high definition live streams and the new-look NBA under commissioner Adam Silver has been known for taking risks.

In July 2012 Forbes reported that Netflix had more subscribers than any cable network. As of January, it had drawn up to 57.4 subscribers, 39 million of whom live in the U.S.

The numbers in the U.S. alone should be enough to pique the attention of big-name leagues in college athletics or at the professional level, but the immense number of viewers and subscribers internationally would only allow the leagues to enhance their international profile.

More and more people are watching games online and finding information from online sites such as Twitter, so it's only a logical step that the television contracts for sports evolve into streaming contracts.

I want to be able to enjoy the sporting experience just as much as I did during the NCAA Tournament, where I could get any game on TV, online, on my phone or on Twitter.

Reach the assistant sports editor at fardaya@asu.edu or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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