In a year where television has been lower ratings for live events and series television, the NCAA Tournament has bucked the tide. For the first week, the NCAA Tournament on CBS/Turner averaged 9.325 million viewers, its best numbers dating back to 1993, a total of 24 years. And some thrilling and compelling games on Sunday certainly helped the viewership.
But what about online? With games starting in the daytime when people are working or in class and ending at night in the first two rounds, the NCAA Tournament is one event that lends itself perfectly to having online feeds. The online March Madness Live feature has generated a record 69.1 million live streams. That’s up 24% from from 2016.
The games in 2017 that generated the most streams to date:
Notre Dame vs. Princeton — 5.4 million
Virginia vs. North Carolina-Wilmington — 4.3 million
Michigan vs. Oklahoma State — 4.2 million
So with so many people watching online, one theory is that the increase in online viewership is helping to bring people to the TV. And another possibility is that people start watching online, but then go to the TV to watch the end of the game. In either case, the digital feeds are not cannibalizing the TV ratings for the NCAA Tournament, but could be fueling the inceased viewership numbers.
When the NCAA Tournament online feeds began last decade, people would line up in virtual waiting rooms to watch. As the technology has improved, buffering has reduced and the viewing experience has gotten much better. And it has helped the NCAA Tournament to reverse the trend of lower numbers for a big event.
Super Bowl LI, the Academy Awards and the Grammys saw lower ratings this year making observers wonder if broadcast television was going to result in a downward trend, but at least in the first week, the NCAA Tournament has been a success both online and on TV.