Yahoo Platinum Launches with Live ‘March Madness’

Mega-portal Yahoo hit the ground running Monday with details of its Yahoo Platinum fee-based video subscription service, a $9.95 a month offering that will feature live streams of the marquee NCAA ‘March Madness’ college basketball tournament.

Yahoo Platinum, the first direct threat to RealNetworks’ dominance of the online market for video subscriptions, will be also include reality-based entertainment content — outtakes from Survivor and American Idol headline the service — but by snagging an exclusive deal with CBS for the NCAA tournament, Yahoo gets one of the most popular sporting event to kick-start its latest paid service.

Alex Riethmiller, a spokesman for Inc., which is handling online coverage of ‘March Madness’ for CBS, told that 56 of 63 live games will be piped into Yahoo Platinum’s $16.95 a month SportsPak feature. Or, as part of the flat-rate $9.95 per month service, fans can get two NCAA games per day, he explained.

Once the popular tournament reaches the ‘Elite Eight’ and ‘Final Four’ stages, it will only be available on replay for Yahoo Platinum subscribers, Riethmiller explained.

Yahoo is expected to aggressively market the video package to its 215 million users this week, a campaign that will highlight behind-the-scenes access to two of the most popular reality television series.

‘CBS Survivor Insider’ will offer exclusive video clips on the show — from scenes from daily life in the camp, nighttime activities of the Survivors, conversations and disputes between the Survivors, as well as interviews not shown in the network broadcast.

Yahoo Platinum is hyping its ‘American Idol’ offering, featuring clips and behind-the-scenes footage of the music competition.

Beyond those two and the temporary NCAA games, the Yahoo line-up appears sparse when compared to RealNetworks’ RealOne SuperPass service, which is also priced at $9.95 a month.

Yahoo Platinum also offers content from, the Discovery Channel, the recently-launched ABC News Live and half-hour reports from CBS MarketWatch television and the radio network.

Also included at Monday’s launch was daily video forecasts from and Yahoo is promising to add content from National Geographic, Warren Miller Entertainment and CNBC soon.

By contrast, the RealOne SuperPass service features 14 content partnerships headlined by exclusive live audio and video pro baseball broadcasts and content from the PGA Tour. Real also has non-exclusive rights with the NBA and CNN to feature basketball and news content.

But, analysts expect Yahoo to aggressively negotiate with those content providers that do not have exclusive deals with RealNetworks and eventually emerge as a bona fide rival in the fledgling space.

Real has developed a niche in the sports market, winning over the crucial male 18-34 market with its pro sports programming and there have been whispers the company would dabble in some adult programming.

The Yahoo move comes as the company is diversifying its business model to be less dependent on online advertising. From e-mail to personals to Web hosting, Yahoo has slowly implemented premium versions of services that were once free but paying subscribers aren’t exactly rushing to pull out their wallets.

Currently, less than 3 million of Yahoo’s 215 million users are paying subscribers and that number includes members of its DSL service co-branded with SBC.

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