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Hoops Net CBS $30 Million Online

NEW YORK: The CBS mothership may be struggling with debt, but the network is getting a boost from basketball. CBS predicted a 30 percent increase in online ad revenues for March Madness compared to last year. The take is projected to come in at $30 million, up from $23 million for the tourney in 2008.

CBS took in a total of $643 million last year, up from $520 million in 2007, according to The Wall Street Journal..

The network is in its seventh year of an 11-year $6 billion contract that covers broadcast and online coverage rights to the men’s college basketball post-season tourney. It used the event to pioneer online distribution of live and archived content, beginning with the first 56 games in the series in 2003.

March Madness on Demand pulled in 4.8 million unique visitors last year when CBS presented all 63 games of the tourney online. Users watched 5 million hours of game video online during the 2008 series, when CBSSports.com introduced the “boss” button to help fans hide basketball joneses in the office.

This year, CBS launched a new hi-def media player based on Microsoft’s Silverlight; while maintaining a lower bit-rate standard-def player as well. The SD player was launched yesterday with historical highlight clips. The tourney itself begins March 19.

CBS Corp. this week took a hit in the share price when analysts predicted it would have to borrow more money to meet the conditions of its debt. Shares slipped to less than $3.10 in Tuesday trading, but rose to around $3.75 today, bucking a bit of a slip on the major indices. – Deborah D. McAdams