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Turner to charge non-cable subscribers for March Madness online

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March Madness is going over the top. Turner Broadcasting, which along with CBS shares the rights for the annual NCAA college basketball championship tournament, is going to offer its coverage of the event over the Internet at a price of $3.99.

The 64-team NCAA tournament runs about a month and ends in early April. The championship game often draws more than 20 million viewers.

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Previously, people could watch games online for free via the NCAA’s website. Games that CBS carries will remain available for free online.

The move by Turner is aimed at consumers who do not subscribe to cable or satellite TV and those who do subscribe but whose distributors have not yet put in place a system to allow customers to watch cable content online.

Of the approximately 100 million cable subscribers in the country, about 77 million have access to a service known as TV Everywhere, which allows them to watch cable content on the Web provided they can verify that they’re paying customers. But of those 77 million who can sign up for TV Everywhere-type services, less than half have enrolled.

The low price tag for the games seems aimed more at encouraging distributors to start marketing TV Everywhere more aggressively than to create a new revenue stream for Turner.

‘We’re honestly not going after cord-cutters,’ said Matt Hong, Turner’s senior vice president of sports.

Still, if a few shell out some money to watch the games online, Turner won’t complain.

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