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March Madness 2017: How to stream the NCAA tournament live

You can stream the championship and final four games for free. You may have to pay to stream other games, though.

ACC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Al Bello / Getty
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament gets going (for real) today just after noon eastern time, when Princeton tips off against Notre Dame.

The best way to watch it will be on a TV set, because TV is still better than the internet for live sports.

But since many of you — especially people who work on Thursday and Friday, when many of the games will be on during work hours — will want to stream some of the games on the internet, we can offer some advice.

The good news is that you can watch many of the tournament’s 67 games on the internet, for free, on many different devices.

Less good news, for some of you, is that if you want to stream the majority of the March Madness games, you will either have to pay for TV, or tell someone you are interested in paying for TV — and give them your credit card.

The big idea: All of the games will stream on the NCAA’s March Madness site, as well as apps for many devices, including iOS and Android. Individual TV networks, like CBS, are also streaming the games via their own sites and apps.

The basics: CBS and Turner (TBS, TNT, TruTV) are sharing TV rights for the games again this year. If CBS is carrying a game, you can stream it for free. If Turner is carrying a game, you will (eventually) need to prove that you’re either a pay TV customer or someone who at least has a trial subscription to a pay TV service.

Details: CBS is carrying 24 games, including the championship and the final four playoffs, as well as many late-round games. You won’t have to log in to stream those. Turner’s channels will have the other 43 games. You will eventually have to log in with some kind of cable TV or other pay TV credential to stream those.

First important loophole: Turner is offering a free three-hour “preview period” where people who don’t have a traditional pay TV subscription can still stream the games. (I think, but can’t confirm, that you could use a new three-hour window for each new device or app you stream the games on. If so, and you have the time/ inclination/ devices, you might be able to stream all the games, gratis.)

Second important loophole: Three different streaming TV services — Sling, DirecTV Now and Sony’s PlayStation Vue — will carry some combination of CBS and Turner games, but you will need to check very carefully to see which channels they offer — and, crucially, whether they are available in your city. But all three of them offer free trials — if you’re willing to hand over your credit card numbers.

Do you have a connected TV, or a TV set top box like an Apple TV, Amazon Fire or a Roku? Then you will have a new set of rules and limits to consider if you’re trying to watch the games for free. CBS, for instance, won’t let you stream the games via connected TV devices for free — you’ll have to subscribe to its $6-a-month All Access service for that. (But that one has a free trial as well ...).

Confusing, right? It’s almost enough to make you consider ... paying for TV.

Or visiting a friend, or a bar, that does.

And go get ‘em, Bucky.

Watch: March Madness explained

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