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Rim Shots

For the college basketball fan, the past two weeks have been filled with the sound of squeaking sneakers, basketballs bounding off the back iron, and prayers. But those prayers aren't always for their alma mater to win. Sometimes, they're praying for their local CBS station to broadcast the game they want to see.

But this year, CBS, with the help of AOL Broadband and The FeedRoom, gave hoops fans the chance to catch games not broadcast in their area.

More important, The FeedRoom, which handles the back-office technical demands of the Webcasts, was able to black out the over-the-air commercials and insert broadband-delivered spots sold by CBS Sportsline. There were 10 sponsors, including the U.S. Army and McDonald's.

"We think of broadband as an MSO that has 50 million subs. CBS can program a network in that system," says Jon Klein, CEO and founder of The FeedRoom. The FeedRoom was given 10 days notice to develop the ad-insertion technology now called CleanCast. It allows FeedRoom employees to tie into the CBS Sports broadcast operations via headsets so they can hear the director's cues.

"We have all the time cues and know the commercial breaks," says Klein. "A lot of it is automation, building our ad reels and cueing up the pods. But there were also some manual commercial inserts to get them into the right space."

The spots this year were sold by CBS Sportsline, but Klein does believe the day will come when the network will sell the spots: "They can sell into this broadband platform and have a bundle deal for a better price."

The CPM in broadband, he adds, is comparable to, if not better than the rate for TV spots.

Larry Wall, CBS Sportsline director of communications and investor relations, expects the ad pool to continue to grow next season. In 2003, the tournament Webcasts were outsourced to Yahoo!. But after this year's success, that won't happen again.

"Everything in the Internet has tremendous growth potential, and there are so many advertisers that haven't come online," he says. "When people get wind of how well this worked and how much it supplements the TV broadcast, it will just get more popular."

The ads were 30-second spots, except for Nintendo's back-to-back 15-second ads. Wall says Sportsline sells sponsorships primarily, delivering a male demo similar to the TV sports audience on weekends. The difference? "We've enabled advertisers to reach that demo during the day."

The trickiest aspect of the production was blacking out the games that were also broadcast on local TV. It involved a sophisticated system of mapping the Internet service providers to the local market, then tying that map into the broadcast schedule.