Review: NCAA March Madness Live App
Published: Friday, March 23, 2012 - 12:19 pm

Chuck Parker (@ChuckParkerTech), a long-time innovator in the media industry and the editor of blog.chuckparker.tv, an innovative second-screen–focused blog, tries out the app, which is available for broadband, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android phones.

I have been reviewing second-screen–app experiences for some time now (approaching 100 apps), and this is the first time I ever felt like someone nailed it for sports. While we can have an argument over the aesthetics of the user interface (UI) based on the consumer’s personal preference, this is clearly the “sports fanatic” UI, with the right amount of options and control. Oddly enough, I’d like to meet the product manager and shake his or her hand.

Let’s talk through the experience. First, upon opening the app (I use the iPad3), you see a clean and simple presentation showing you what games are on today (and what the current score is, time remaining, quarter, etc.) and giving you the option to check the matchup for the games in the near future. You notice some sponsorship (Buick, Coke Zero, CapitalOne) and some relatively unobtrusive banner ads at the bottom.

Choosing a game opens up a whole new vibrant and stat-oriented interface — something akin to a jet fighter’s cockpit display — with the streaming video in the center (should you choose to update to the $3.99 paid version) and all of the ancillary information surrounding it.

At the 11 o’clock position is the live score of the other games on today. At 12 o’clock is the current score and game clock, with an ability to turn on the video, team alerts (close games, your favorite team, upsets), and the ability to turn on the radio broadcast (in the event you don’t want to pay for the video or have low bandwidth).

Just below that is a great graphic called the “Lead Tracker,” allowing you to see what the lead was at any point in the game (easily demonstrating the fan adrenalin level of the game).

On the left- and right-hand sides is an ability for you to choose one of three options for either team playing: a Twitter feed (very likely curated, according to my testing), current team stats, or a list of the players with photos and stats.

The real estate at the bottom holds a clever implementation of a “cheer” button, which launches a combined window for Twitter and Facebook with pre-populated (but editable) text with all the right hashtags to say something about your team.

For unpopulated text boxes, you can “comment,” and it brings up a similar box, and you can check-in in a similar fashion (the other well architected feature is that you can click Facebook or Twitter separately if you manage those social networks differently as many do). I even love the “Enjoy More Tweets” approach, which generates a refresh of the curated Twitter feed.

I went ahead and signed up for the live video feed, and I have to admit the quality (on WiFi) was pretty good. I tried the radio feed as well — also very good.

I did notice that the video feed was delayed almost exactly 30 seconds from the live feed to my TV (on purpose, I assume), although the scores seemed to update more quickly than that (creating some odd scenarios at times). I also took note that, when my first screen went to a commercial, so did the live video stream (30 seconds delayed actually) but it had its own set of streamed video commercials (not those Hulu video/Internet hybrid commercials).

This part seemed at odds with the rest of the design, since I would have thought they would want to capitalize on the ability to re-emphasize the brands on the first screen, but it seems they went for selling the inventory twice instead.

Poking around a bit more on the menu bar on the top left of the UI, I found the Bracket Challenge section (where the superfan could have filled out his or her own forecast of the games on their CBS Sports account and tracked the games’ progress) and a current bracket with final and live game scores, allowing you to see at a glance what the impact of the game outcome was on the tournament at large.

In terms of the classic way I have been reviewing these second-screen experiences:

  • Simple. No way to control my TV, but that’s not surprising with an app designed to reach this many people (and with a near-live video stream of its own available in the app).
  • Social. A well-constructed UI with the ability to ask for more feeds, pre-populated “cheering,” check-in buttons for both Twitter and Facebook, and the ability to comment in free form as well gave this a high rating in my book.
  • Seamless. There was no attempt at integrating other sources of content, although the network carrying the games are displayed
  • Stimulating. This was stimulation on steroids! Although there were no synchronized features (everything was planned for a live event), I don’t think that is a drawback in this case (most of these games will be watched live by the fans).
  • Discovery. No ability to discover other content but great ability to see when the next games are, etc.

I have reviewed a number of sports apps and typically rave about the professional-league apps (NFL Live, NBA Courtside, MLB at Bat). I have to admit that I think this is the best sports-fanatic app I have seen in terms of its completeness and its flexibility for the user to control what they see and what they don’t see. Although it didn’t score well in three of the categories, I don’t think that matters to the sports fanatics it was clearly built for, who are so overwhelmed by the abundance of Stimulating and Social feature categories that there isn’t time to think about what else the app could do for them.

Wow. What a great experience.

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