March Madness is the ultimate multi-screen experience



If you're reading this on Thursday morning, that means you haven't already abandoned all pretense of work in favor of shifting your full attention to this year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. I commend your dedication. I'll be checking out around noon when my alma mater Michigan State takes on my northwest Indiana neighbors Valparaiso University, and I'm not the only one taking off the afternoon: March Madness is the greatest threat to productivity that American industry has ever faced, not just because the tournament's opening round signals the high-water mark of the annual sports calendar but because so much of the action unfolds on Thursday and Friday during office hours.

Outplacement services provider Challenger Gray & Christmas forecasts March Madness 2013 will result in at least $134 million in "lost wages" over the tourney's first two days as millions of workers spend between one and three hours following hoops action instead of spending that same time doing whatever they're paid to do. A complementary survey conducted by Braun Research on behalf of IT staffing firm Modis reveals that 34 percent of IT professionals will take some action to crush the human spirit improve productivity, including banning March Madness video, throttling video feeds and even blocking tournament-related content altogether.

If you can't "call in sick" to watch March Madness at home--or if your IT department is bringing the hammer down on desktop access--all hope is not lost. There's still mobile. In fact, no matter where or how your March Madness viewing experience plays out, mobile should be an essential component: More than any other sporting event or television broadcast, the NCAA tournament is uniquely tailored to the multi-screen possibilities of the mobile platform. Here's how.

Viewing: When I was a kid, audiences were limited to only one regional NCAA Basketball matchup--you watched that game on CBS, and you liked it, because it was still March Madness and it was better than walking 10 miles to school in sub-zero temperatures (uphill in both directions, no less). But here in 2013, where miracles never cease, you can watch any and all games live on your iPhone, iPad or Android device via Turner Sports' NCAA March Madness Live app, which streams every CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV telecast. This is obviously huge news if you can't watch the tournament on your TV or PC, but it's also big if you want to check out multiple games simultaneously--in theory, you could view one game on your TV, another on your desktop, another on your tablet and still another on your phone. I plan to test this theory momentarily.  

Socializing: March Madness is nothing without smack talk. Mobile not only lets you say heartless things about your friends' schools, Notre Dame's ridiculous shamrock-shake uniforms or Ole Miss sociopath Marshall Henderson, it also gives you a virtually endless number of social media channels to voice your opinions, like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter and dedicated second-screen apps like Viggle. The NCAA March Madness Live app even carves out space for Tournament Tweets, Game Tweets and Facebook Fan Chat.

And when virtual interaction loses its appeal, in theory you could ask your smartphone to guide you to the nearest bar to enjoy the tournament in the company of other college basketball fans. I plan to test this theory as well, although I really don't need my phone to guide the way. (Maybe for the walk home, though.) 

Gambling: March Madness is above all about the bracket, the mega-popular office pool that everyone enters because anyone can win. First the bracket evolved from the printer to the PC, and now it's going mobile--e.g., ESPN's Bracket Bound app, which tracks your picks and serves up news alerts, video and recaps. Sure, you can't rip up an app like you would a printed bracket when your sleeper pick gets bounced in the opening round, but that's a small price to pay for progress.  

We're still frustratingly far away from real-money mobile wagering, although there is progress to report on that front, too. New Jersey has recently legalized online gambling for residents and Nevada lawmakers have approved both interstate online poker and state-to-state gaming agreements--earlier this month, Glu Mobile even released its first real-money wagering game, Samurai vs. Zombies Slots, and while it's limited to the U.K. for now, perhaps it will expand to U.S. shores in the future. March Madness has taught us that nothing is impossible, and that's why we love it.

Go Spartans.--Jason