A decade ago, when CBS struck a comprehensive $6 billion, 11-year pact with the NCAA for the rights to 89 NCAA properties, including the men's basketball tournament, it was considered one of the most bloated sports deals in television.
But CBS had the foresight to secure a crucial sweetener: new-media rights. A week before tipoff, CBS says it has nearly sold out its online ad inventory to 35 marketers including AT&T and Coca-Cola and expects online ad revenue to reach about $30 million this year, up 30% from $23 million in 2008. Analysts say the current ad slump could make it challenging for the network to profit on March Madness this year, but the deal, which runs through 2013, isn't turning out to be quite as mad as many thought.
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