Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

ESPN’s Cunning Plan to Stream March Madness: Head to Bill Simmons’s House

bill simmons grantlandTurner and CBS paid a gazillion dollars for the March Madness tourney, so the only way you can watch/stream the games is by heading to one of their channels/sites.

But ESPN, which isn’t paying a penny for the games, has figured out how to get in on the action, too. Bill Simmons, the sports network’s star columnist/podcaster/broadcaster/editor, will be offering up commentary during the tournament’s first two days, live, via a YouTube link.

Simmons will host the video stream from his house, along with a cast of characters from his Grantland universe, including ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and writer Rembert Browne.

The idea isn’t to compete with the games themselves, but to offer up pre- and post-game commentary at preset times, along with the option of breaking in live if something merits a pop-in.

I don’t know if this will work, but it certainly sounds intriguing. And a lot more promising than most “second screen” efforts, which seem designed to fulfill some business development goal without ever considering what a bona fide human might want to do while they watch TV.

And I’ve seen at least one version of the idea that seemed to work pretty well: For the last few years, the New York Times’ David Carr and A.O. Scott have been livestreaming their own commentary during the Oscars. If you tuned in to the show last month, you got to see stuff like this.

Here’s Simmons’s vision for his experiment, via email:

We want this to feel like a looser, more irreverent studio show. Like a live podcast where people feel like they are hanging out with us while watching basketball. I have no idea if this will work but we like trying new things at Grantland. … the only way we know if something will be successful is by trying. We will talk about things that I assure you none of the traditional shows will be talking about. Office pools, gambling picks, what we are eating, etc. I can also promise you no other studio show has their mother cooking all day Thursday an Italian feast for everyone to eat on Friday’s shows.

At the end of the day this really is just a convoluted way of getting ESPN to pay me to watch basketball with my friends. Oh — and now I can write off part of my man cave on my taxes.”

(Simmons’s rep would like us to stress that he’s joking about the tax dodge. Though it seems reasonable to me.)

ESPN isn’t attaching ads to the streams, but I can imagine that if it works out, they might try that down the road. Meantime, this isn’t an ESPN stream that requires a cable subscription or any other prerequisite — point your browser to and you should be good (not quite sure if the YouTube-hosted stream will play on mobile devices, though).

Here’s the tentative schedule for the shows, to be repeated Thursday and Friday:

  • 11:30-12:15 am ET
  • 1:30-1:45 pm ET
  • 6:10-6:50 pm ET

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