March Madness gains in a year of television declines
Other big events have taken hits in 2017. But the NCAA men's tourney isn't.
March 21, 2017
The Academy Awards, the Super Bowl, the Grammys, “The Walking Dead,” “The Big Bang Theory.”
Just a few months into 2017, a slew of big events and major TV series have recorded year-to-year declines or even fallen to new lows.
March Madness is a notable exception.
Not only is the men’s NCAA basketball tournament not losing viewers, but it actually put up its best opening-weekend numbers in 24 years. That’s a surprise given the recent state of television.
The opening weekend averaged 9.325 million total viewers across CBS, tru TV, TBS and TNT, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year, when it averaged 8.5 million.
That also marked the best start since 1993.
Sunday’s ratings certainly gave the tourney a boost. Exciting games featuring North Carolina (which won) and Duke (which didn’t) increased viewership by 34 percent over last year, to 11.9 million.
It was the most-watched Sunday of opening weekend since, once again, 1993.
Reversing recent March Madness declines
So why is March Madness, which has been seeing ratings declines for years, suddenly bucking the recent trend of down viewership across a slew of live events and TV shows.
There could be many answers.
One would certainly be the good games featured in the round of 32, which beyond the Tar Heels and Blue Devils also included Wisconsin upending defending champ Villanova.
Other possibilities include growth from digital viewership of the games fueling TV tune-in. March Madness Live has generated an all-time record of 69.1 million live streams, up 24 percent from last year.
People may watch part of a game on their phones, for instance, and then switch to TV to see the end. Far from cannibalizing either medium’s viewership, they seem to be feeding each other.
Of course, the second question is whether this momentum can continue into the tourney’s second week. That’s more of a question mark, since at least one big draw (Duke) is no longer in the running for the title.
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