IT departments brace for video onslaught during March Madness 2008

With CBS Sports drastically increasing the amount of Web video that it is offering to Internet users during the NCAA Tournament this year, it will put an even greater strain on IT infrastructure and the IT pros who manage it.

During my early teenage years, I came down with a head cold during the same week in mid-March for four straight years. Mysteriously, my sickness coincided with the week that the NCAA Tournament opened in each of those years, so I was able to watch all of the first round games while lying on the couch nursing myself back to health.

I've always considered the first two days of the NCAA tournament to be the most exciting and the most fun. However, since the games start at 12:00 PM Eastern time on both days, you can miss a big chunk of the action if you don't start watching until after work (or after school).

CBS Sports and the NCAA started helping basketball fans -- and bracket-watchers from the office pools -- with this little dilemma a few years ago when they began broadcasting March Madness via the Web. This year, they are taking it to a whole new level by broadcasting every game on the Web, as well as halftime shows, highlights, recaps, and archived videos.

To get an idea of the scope of March Madness in the United States, take a look at the following stats (based on research from

  • 41% of Americans consider themselves basketball fans
  • 58 million U.S. workers are basketball fans
  • 27% of American employees participate in NCAA Tournament office pools
  • March Madness office pools are now worth $2.5 billion dollars

Chicago firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas has estimated that American businesses will lose approximately $3.8 billion dollars in lost productivity because of employees watching the NCAA tournament at work. That number is pretty dubious and has been dismissed by Slate and Forbes. I think $3.8 billion is inflated, but I also believe that many users do waste more time than usual during the the NCAA Tournament. TechRepublic has seen evidence of that over the past several years, as we've seen our traffic dip during the opening week of the NCAA Tournament.

For IT departments, the most significant element of all this is the fact that users who watch the March Madness Web feeds can become a major drain on bandwidth and network resources. With CBS Sports making even more video available online for free, the problem is becoming more acute in 2008.

Some IT departments block or filter the CBS Web broadcasts, based on company policy. However, there's a huge range of sports sites, fan sites, and gambling sites that employees can also use to follow the games. Thus, IT departments have to consider blocking those sites, too.

There's also a security component to this issue. "When high-profile events occur like March Madness, hackers rush to try to profit through social engineering tactics and increasingly by compromising legitimate Web sites," said Steve Kelley, senior director of product management at Websense. "The sheer number of sports and gambling Web sites, coupled with the widespread use of Web 2.0 sites such as social networking sites, present an opportunity for the bad guys to go after unsuspecting computer users. We encourage organizations to establish Internet security policies to protect employees and organizations essential information."

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