This year’s NCAA tournament has been very good for broadcasters CBS and Turner Sports. The networks announced Monday that the tournament so far has been the most-watched in 24 years through the first Sunday, posting an average of 9.325 million viewers across all games and all networks (CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV), a 10 per cent boost over last year.
Sunday’s games certainly helped with that, as they averaged 11.9 million viewers, also the best in 24 years (since 1993) and a 34 per cent rise over last year. The third telecast window (5:05-9:25 PM Eastern) shone most, with 18.6 million viewers on average (up 38 per cent, and the highest for that window since tournament TV coverage expanded in 1991); that included Kansas-Michigan State, North Carolina-Arkansas, Oregon-Rhode Island, and parts of Baylor-USC and Duke-South Carolina. All of those games were good, and both UNC-Arkansas and Oregon-Rhode Island featured late comebacks, always useful to boost viewing numbers.
However, this wasn’t just about one day. Things got off to a good start for the networks Thursday, where they averaged 8.2 million viewers, the third-most since 1991 and a 7.4 per cent rise over 2016. The First Four on truTV Tuesday and Wednesday also did well, pulling in 5.9 million viewers (a 12 per cent rise over last year, and the second-best First Four number since that format was introduced in 2011). So while Sunday represents the most impressive single day to date, the rest of the tournament so far has done well too.
The streaming and online engagement numbers have also been impressive. Here’s more on that from the networks’ release:
NCAA March Madness Live (MML) has generated an all-time record 69.1 million live streams through the first Sunday of the tournament, an increase of +24% over last year. NCAA Tournament games garnering the most live streams to date, include: Notre Dame vs. Princeton (5.4 million streams); Virginia vs. UNC-Wilmington (4.3 million streams); and Michigan vs. Oklahoma State (4.2 million streams).
Official March Madness social media handles generated 26 million social engagements across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram through Sunday, which is up +20% over the corresponding time period last year.
It’s interesting to see the TV ratings keep rising in an era where so many sports ratings have seen some declines. That suggests March Madness is still a strong property. It’s also interesting to see that the online numbers are so high; cord-cutters have been cited as a reason for declining ratings elsewhere, and some of those streams are from those who don’t have a cable or satellite package (others do, but are choosing to stream games at work, on the go or away from their normal TV), but that hasn’t led to lower TV numbers in this case.
There still seem to be plenty of people who want to watch the NCAA tournament, and that’s great news for CBS and Turner. That’s especially important when you consider that their deal for these rights runs through 2032. It’s also further proof that they were right to form this partnership, instead of CBS’ initial plan of selling the then-money-losing rights on to ESPN.