If you're reading this with an NCAA tournament game streaming live in another browser tab, you're in good company: In 2008, nearly 5 million people watched March Madness online, reports the Chicago Tribune. The tipping point between novelty and mainstay came 4 years ago, when CBS made access free, setting an example that revolutionized online sports coverage.
CBS' ad revenue soared after it stopped charging for access, creating a model for the likes of the Olympics on NBC. "NBC showed you can augment the TV experience and enhance it with online coverage," said a Nielsen exec. And even in a tough economy, March Madness is an increasingly beefy cash cow. Said a CBS VP: "When you look at a really great brand, like the NCAA tournament, the advertisers will come to the table."