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Associated Press
Dish’s ad campaign uses a kanagroo that watches NCAA basketball on a tablet at work.

March Madness via mobile adds to workers’ distractions

– Every year, the NCAA college basketball tournament gives employees a reason to goof off at their desks and root for their alma maters.

But there’s a growing source of potential headaches for bosses. Media companies like hosts CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner are doing all they can to promote so-called TV Everywhere services, which add value to cable and satellite TV packages by allowing subscribers to watch live TV on smartphones and tablets while on the go – and on the job.

Although people have long been able to stream games live over the Internet, employers have always had the option to block content to keep productivity high. That’s harder to do when workers are bringing their own devices and using their cellphone data plans to engage in March Madness.

Turner Broadcasting Senior Vice President Jeremy Legg says the tournament, which kicks off in earnest today, is “one of the most significant opportunities we have to promote TV Everywhere” – and the numbers show it’s working.

Last year, streamed video viewing of the first two weeks of the tournament more than tripled from the previous year to 14 million hours. The number of viewers using the NCAA March Madness Live mobile app more than doubled to 3.4 million.

Jumping on the bandwagon, Dish Network Corp. started a new ad campaign Tuesday that touts how well its Hopper set-top box can help customers sneak in some game-watching at work. One of Dish’s TV spots features the company’s stuffed kangaroo mascot, who is streaming NCAA basketball to a tablet while at the office. The marsupial tucks the device away when a manager walks by. “Hey boss, woo! I love working,” the kangaroo says.

Dish’s chief marketing officer James Moorhead says it’s up to companies to trust their employees to get work done, even if they spend time watching the games. Dish is encouraging its own employees to watch games on their mobile devices during breaks at work. And the company has bolstered its Wi-Fi network to accommodate the expected increase in streaming during the NCAA tournament.

Although the devices employees bring to work can present challenges for managers, productivity experts suggest that well-communicated company policies set the right tone for appropriate workplace activity.

“There needs to be clearly defined ground rules,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of job placement firm Office Team. Such rules include that deadlines can’t be missed and that real money betting isn’t allowed.

But office activities can be a good way of promoting good-natured competition and friendly interactions, he says. A poll the company released two weeks ago showed that 32 percent of the 300 managers found participating in March Madness at work boosted morale, up from 20 percent who thought so a year ago. About 62 percent thought it had no impact on either morale or productivity.

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