RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — If you have a broadband connection at work or home (or both) and want to watch your favorite team in “March Madness”, you had better signup fast for a free offering from CBS.

CBS and the NCAA are teaming up to offer on-demand viewing of every NCAA men’s basketball tournament game via the web at no charge.

The catch is you must register in advance for a “VIP” pass, and the number is being limiting in order to put a cap on bandwidth demands.

As of Monday morning, CBS reported that 73.6 percent of the available VIP passes have been taken.

CBS charged $19.99 for online viewing in 2005 but has secured several heavyweight advertisers for the 2006 effort. The webcast games will include commercial breaks.

To sign up, go to:

(In the RTP market, WRAL-TV will be offering coverage of every game through its HDTV digital capabilities over air and over Time Warner Cable.)

CBS and the NCAA have made the registration process quick and easy.

With more than 40 million broadband users in the United States now, the rush is on by the networks and Hollywood to find ways to capitalize on the opportunities presented by on-demand web viewing.

Broadcasters will be paying close attention to just how successful CBS and the NCAA are in presenting March Madness. Will bandwidth be sufficient to meet peak demand? Will quality of the webcasts meet expectations? Will advertisers be willing to foot the bill? Will viewers like the webcasts enough in order to pay for such coverage in the future?

“The biggest test will be CBS and how many people sign up,” Colin Smith of Raycom and Jefferson Pilot Sports said last week as his company conducted a trial webcast of three ACC tournament games. “They are doing it for free. But how will they monetize this?”

Major League Baseball is finding ways to monetize. It is exploiting the Internet to offer on-demand viewing of virtually every game (subject to blackout restrictions) and audiocasts of every game — for as little as $14.95 for an entire season (audio) to $79.95 (video) for around 2,400 webcast games.

Check out MLB’s offerings at: