How to Watch March Madness Online Without Paying for Cable

Someone just told these Duke fans they can stream the entire NCAA tournament.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

There is no television event like the NCAA Tournament. Not only is March Madness the best thing in sports, period, as even my non-NCAA-fanatic colleague Justin Peters acknowledges. It’s also the one time of the year when many workplaces across the country set aside their norms on gambling and watching TV on the job.

Good news for those of us who are looking forward to slacking off: All 67 games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament will be streamed live online. But, just like last year, a lot of those games will be available only if you have a valid login from a cable company. Those cable-login-only games include the Final Four and the national championship game.

Though the Final Four and title game will be on cable this year—all of those games will air on TBS—cord-cutters and cord-nevers will be able to watch every game broadcast by CBS at March Madness Live. That buffet of games will include a handful of matchups from each of the first four rounds. You can also watch those CBS games for free over the air on your TV with a digital antenna.

For everything else—that is, all the games carried on cable channels TBS, TNT, and TruTV—you’ll need to prove that you’re paying for cable on your TV (or that you’re resourceful enough to fake it) before you can watch online. The same is true if you want to watch CBS games (or any others) on mobile devices and set-top boxes, like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV. If you do have a cable login, that process should be pretty easy: All of the games will be streamed via the March Madness Live app.

The authentication requirement is hard on cord-cutters, and it’s by design, says Chris Brantner, who writes a guide for cord-cutters on his blog Cut Cable Today. “Live sports is one of the last things that is holding people back from cutting the cord,” he told me. “Pretty much anything else, you can watch on demand [and avoid spoilers]. But sports, once it happens, you know it happened.”

There is at least one other way to watch the whole tournament on your computer or set-top box without singing up for cable: You can sign up for a live TV streaming service, such as Sling TV or PlayStation Vue.

Sling TV in particular appears to see March Madness as a golden opportunity to sign up new users. Both TNT and TBS come standard with its basic channel package, which starts at $20 per month. The third channel carrying tournament games, TruTV, usually requires a $5-per-month add-on package called “Lifestyle Extra.” But as a March Madness promotion, Sling TV is including TruTV in its basic package from March 13 through April 12.

Last year, so many people signed up for the service ahead of the Final Four that Sling TV crashed for some viewers at the most inopportune time. The company apologized and said it has retooled its software to handle spikes in demand.

Sony is also taking advantage of March Madness to roll out its PlayStation Vue on-demand TV service in 203 new markets, where it will offer a basic package for $29.99 a month. Like Sling TV, the package will include TBS, TNT, and TruTV. Unlike PlayStation Vue’s original $40 a month package, which was available in seven major markets, the new “Access Slim” package will not include live TV from CBS or the other major broadcast networks.

March Madness begins Tuesday, March 15, at 6:40 p.m. with the first of the “First Four” play-in games, all of which will be carried by TruTV. The first round begins Thursday, March 17, at 12:15 p.m., when Duke will play UNC-Wilmington in a game carried on CBS.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.