Ratings for the NCAA Tournament selection show were always going to suffer from the move from CBS to TBS. But after the show’s new format was unanimously panned Sunday night, the numbers wound up being worse than anyone likely expected.
Per Sports Media Watch, the selection show drew only a 1.6 overnight on TBS, down from 3.3 last year, well below SMW’s prediction of 2.2 and distantly behind the Tiger Woods-infused Valspar Championship, which pulled a massive 5.1 overnight Sunday.
We’ll get to the selection show in a moment, but let’s talk about golf. With Tiger in contention to win his first PGA Tour event in four and a half year, viewers flocked to NBC for the Valspar’s final round, which generated the highest rating for any PGA broadcast at a non-major since 2013, per ESPN. Considerably more people watched the final round of this run-of-the-mill event than watched the respective final rounds of the U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship last year.
Ratings for final round of 2017 Masters: 7.6
U.S. Open: 3.6
2018 Valspar: 5.1
But please tell me more about how no one cares about Tiger.
— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) March 12, 2018
While NBC and PGA executives celebrate the return of Tiger, TBS and NCAA suits are headed back to the drawing board, as the ratings dip for the selection show continues a troublesome pattern. In 2016, ratings for the broadcast fell to historic lows as CBS dragged out the reveal over two hours. In 2017, they fell further (below five million viewers for the first time ever) when the network cut back to a 90-minute show and released the bracket within the first 40 minutes. Now, they have plummeted even further, in part thanks to the switch to TBS and in part, we imagine, thanks to the ill-fated decision to name the tournament field at the top of the broadcast, then unveil the bracket from there.
Though it was easy to see what TBS was going for with its new format — less torture for fans of bubble teams, with some suspense left for the rest of us — public sentiment was overwhelmingly negative. As our Jay Rigdon wrote Sunday night:
Here’s what made the show work for years and years: simple, quick drama, with information doled out in an organized and predictable way, followed by analysis. (No one’s ever really cared about that last part, but if there is a time they do care, it’s right when the bracket is freshly released and everyone wants to talk about it.)
The new format manages to give us all the same ingredients (which teams are in, which are out, and who they’re playing), and did so in just about the same amount of time (as promised), and yet it feels completely different, and much worse. That’s because the how is as important as the what; if you give me a box of Chopped mystery ingredients, I can serve you a meal, but it’s not going to be nearly as good as someone who can actually cook.
Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that selection show viewership is headed steadily in the wrong direction and has been for some time.
Here's the Selection Show overnight ratings dating back to 1990. pic.twitter.com/mhkp5rVEQD
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) March 12, 2018
It’s possible that the selection show is simply incompatible with today’s world, in which attention spans grow shorter by the day and no one feels like waiting around for information to drip out slowly. Fans don’t want suspense. They want everything at once. Of course, you can’t very easily build a TV special around releasing everything at once, so for the near future we’re stuck with a frustrating, imperfect bracket roll-out and the unimpressive ratings that come with it.