A cord cutter’s guide to March Madness
The madness that is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is set to tip off next week. Even if you’ve cut the pay-TV cord, there are many ways to score streaming access to all the action.
CBS and Turner Sports will televise all 67 games of the March Madness tournament, from the First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday on truTV at 6 p.m. ET to the national championship game April 2 on TBS at 9 p.m. ET.
To see every game, you will need CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV channels — included on most pay-TV packages.
But if you are among the 21% of U.S. TV households that don’t subscribe to cable, satellite or fiber-delivered pay TV, according to Leichtman Research Group, you will have to check the growing lineup of Internet-streamed subscription services such as YouTube TV to make sure they have the channels you want.
Some of those services, such as YouTube TV and Sony’s PlayStation Vue, let you sign in to the networks’ NCAA March Madness Live app on mobile and TV streaming devices to watch all the games.
“If I’m a fan of the tournament, I’m going to watch it everywhere I can, and it just depends on what suits me at the time and where I am,” said Hania Poole, vice president and general manager of NCAA Digital. “I’m a really big believer … and we have enough data to know, it’s about meeting the fan where they are.”
The digital audience has grown. About 98 million viewers livestreamed last year’s tournament, 33% more than in 2016, Poole said. Overall, fans watched about 20 million live video hours last year, up 10% from the year before.
If your TV package includes CBS and the Turner channels, you will be able to use your pay-TV credentials to watch all the games on March Madness Live on the Web.
Those who don’t have a traditional pay-TV subscription need a strategy if there are certain games and channels they want to watch.
All CBS games are available to watch for free on March Madness Live on the Web, including smartphones and tablets. To watch the games televised on the other networks via March Madness Live, you need the log-in credentials that come along with a pay-TV subscription.
If you don’t have a pay-TV service and want to watch the CBS games using a streaming TV device such as Apple TV, you need to use CBS All Access, the subscription streaming video service CBS launched more than three years ago. It costs $5.99 a month after a free seven-day trial.
Many viewers can find those CBS games on Internet-delivered streaming TV services such as Hulu and PlayStation Vue. Many of the services also give you the authentication credentials needed for full March Madness Live access.
Interest in the tournament will drive customers to try out or return to these broadband-delivered services, said John Tantum, co-founder of Suppose, a site that lets users compare TV services based on their needs. “Most games, including the Final Four and championship games, are only available on traditional ‘cable’ channels,” he said. “So cable cord cutters will not have access to these games.”
If you want to ramp up your viewing options for just the first round of the tournament Thursday and Friday, the services have free trial periods of up to a week.
For the duration of the tournament, you can subscribe for a month at a time, unlike traditional pay-TV service. Many trial users will turn into subscribers, Tantum said, because of the lower prices and evolving experience “with all the important channels included plus easier on-the-go viewing and recording.”
Most streaming services — and the March Madness Live app — are available on a wide variety of streaming devices, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and other Android devices, and some game systems.
Here’s a breakdown:
•Hulu. Hulu’s Live TV service ($39.99 monthly after the free seven-day trial) has 141 CBS affiliates covering nearly 80% of the USA and all the Turner channels. You can use your Hulu username and password at access March Madness Live. A March Madness hub will keep you updated on news and highlights.
•PlayStation Vue. Sony’s TV offering starts at $39.99 monthly after the free five-day trial. It has CBS for 78% of the USA and the Turner channels — and you can use the PS Vue app to watch while on the go or to log into March Madness Live. If you watch on a PlayStation 4, you can use a multiview feature to watch three channels at the same time.
•DirecTV Now. The AT&T-owned service has CBS channels in 43 markets — check directvnow.com for coverage — and TBS, TNT and truTV channels in its lowest-priced package, which is $35 per month after free seven-day trial. A special offer gets you the first three months of service for $10 a month if you use code YESNOW3.
•YouTube TV. Available in more than 90 markets, YouTube TV, at $35 monthly after a free seven-day trial, has CBS live channels on board in all but Jackson, Miss. (Check YouTubeTV.com for locations.)
•Sling TV. Sling TV has the Turner channels but not CBS. You could use an antenna to get CBS — check the AntennaWeb.org site for more information — or subscribe to CBS All Access. TBS and TNT appear in both the Sling Orange package, which is $20 monthly after the free seven-day trial, and Sling Blue packages, at $25 monthly after a free seven-day trial. Sling Blue has truTV.
•FuboTV. The onetime soccer-focused service fuboTV has more than 60 channels, including CBS across 67% of U.S. homes — but not TBS, TNT or truTV. Check fubo.tv for CBS coverage. After a free seven-day trial, it is $19.99 for the first month, then $44.99 monthly.
If you stream the games, there are some new reasons to watch via March Madness Live. On Apple TV you can watch up to three live games simultaneously using a new multigame feature.
There’s a new Fast Break video channel that — similar to the NFL RedZone channel — will cover all the buzzer beaters during the first round of the tournament and constantly update viewers on close games, finals and highlights.
The feature recalls when CBS was the only channel broadcasting games and “they would break into the other games in progress to show you the best of the best,” said NCAA Digital’s Poole. “We are going to re-create that because fans have been saying for years that they miss that experience.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.