While this year’s First Four was the second-most-viewed ever, numbers for the actual tournament so far haven’t been good. Austin Karp of Sports Business Journal reported Friday that combined overnights for the first day of the tournament Thursday across CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV fell 15 per cent year over year from last year’s record showing:

As Karp notes, this is partly thanks to 2015 ratings being so good (and the factors that combined to make that happen). It’s also worth mentioning that CBS in particular took a big hit in primetime, and that they had Kentucky both years but saw far less interest in the Wildcats this year. Here are the comparable year-over-year primetime ratings from AA’s Douglas Pucci:

3/17/16
CBS (8-11pm) 2.8 rating, 4.165 million viewers
3/19/15
CBS (8-11pm) 4.6 rating, 6.533 million

So, a significant portion of the ratings decline can be attributed to those CBS games falling off. As Karp mentioned, some of that might be thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, but a lot of it’s probably thanks to the lesser significance around Kentucky this year and the lesser numbers of close games. However, it’s worth noting that this wasn’t a good year even when not compared to 2015’s records: 2014 pulled in an average 6.0 overnight, well above 2016’s 5.6. That may tie in to this being a down year for college basketball in general, as the poor regular-season ratings would suggest. We’ll see if things improve as the tournament goes along.

Update: The decline looks a little smaller once the fast national ratings are factored in. Fast national ratings provided a a 5.2 U.S. HH rating and 7,901,000 total viewers Thursday vs. a 5.6 U.S. HH rating and 8,554,000 total viewers in 2015, so that’s a smaller decline. More viewers than ever turned in through streaming services, too; the Turner-managed March Madness Live recorded in 2.5 million live video streams and 4.9 million live hours of video consumption, both all-time records for the tournament’s first Thursday, with video consumption up 12 per cent over last year. Duke-UNC Wilmington set an all-time single-game record with 5.5 million streams. The tournament also found success on its official Facebook and Twitter channels Thursday, with 1.6 million video views, a 62 per cent increase over 2015.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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