By ANDY MARSO
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2011) The upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament is more than a sporting event for Annapolis resident Nick Allen, 28. It's a roundball feast full of 68 teams that will all suddenly be relevant to his potential bracket bragging rights after they're selected Sunday.
Allen, who works at a sporting goods chain, said he plans to fill out four to six brackets this year and follow the tournament closely. If a television's not around, he'll use his smart phone.
"Could be on my way to work, could be in a bar scene where someone else wants to know who won or what the score's at," Allen said. "Or even when I'm at work, where co-workers or other people will walk in and want to know if I know what's going on in the game, because obviously we don't have it on in the store."
Maryland, which played N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Thursday, is a long-shot to make the NCAA field. But whether the Terps are in or out, there's sure to be plenty of interest locally from bracket fiends like Allen.
The NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS are streaming every game live this year through their March Madness on Demand service to help satisfy that appetite. But there are pitfalls that could frustrate users who access it through their smart phones.
Allen said he has an Android-powered Verizon smart phone with an unlimited data plan. That means he won't be able to download the free MMOD application released Thursday, because it's only for iPhone, iPod or iPad.
Turner Vice President of Sports New Products and Services Michael Adamson, said Allen should be able to access MMOD through his phone's Web browser at http://mmod.ncaa.com, but the quality of the stream will depend on his device's capacity to run Adobe's Flash Player.
"I'm confident you could see the stream," Adams said. "I'm not confident what kind of experience you'll get because Flash streaming on Android is still sort of a ... subset. The stream isn't designed for this kind of device in terms of the kind of memory it's got and how it manages all that."
Still, unlimited data means Allen can watch with reckless abandon. Other users will have to be on the lookout for over-use fees.
AT&T started capping data plans at 2 gigabytes per month for new subscribers in June. That's usually far more than most people need (in a 2010 Consumer Reports study, only about 4 percent of the 1,012 iPhone users sampled averaged even 1 gigabyte per month). But streaming video is one of the fastest ways to suck up gigabytes, and MMOD, billed as "the largest annual digital sports event," means March will be more than your average month for many of the country's 65 million-plus smart phone users.
According to AT&T's website, a 2 gigabyte plan will get a user about 200 minutes of "standard-quality" video. That's enough to stream about one full game and the first half of another game (provided a user didn't need a lot of data for other things like checking e-mail or social networking that month).
Users with smaller data plans (like AT&T's 200-megabyte plan or Verizon's 150-megabyte plan) could burn through their entire month's allocation with just a couple viewings of their favorite team's last-second, game-winning shot.
Verizon and Sprint did not respond to interview requests by deadline.
AT&T spokeswoman Jennifer Clark said the company has procedures in place to warn users when they're approaching their monthly data limits.
"To help avoid any surprises we send text-message alerts," Clark said. "You'll get one after you reach 65 percent of your plan, another when you reach 90 percent and then a final one when you hit 100 percent, just so you have an idea of what your data usage is."
AT&T users with the 2-gigabyte plan are automatically charged $10 for an extra gigabyte if they go over. They can also check up on how much data they have left by accessing their accounts online.
All the NCAA games will also be available on TV this year on CBS, TBS, TNT or truTV, so smart phone users who can't miss a minute of the tournament might be wise to save their data for when the phone is their only option.
Even Allen said he'd be hard-pressed to stream 200 minutes of video in March, given his preference for watching basketball on a screen larger than 3.5 inches diagonally.
"I think it's based on if you were watching highlights or watching an entire game," Allen said. "I wouldn't watch an entire game on my phone."