March 19, 2015

SKEDBALL: March Madness Ratings Overview

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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After the “First Four” play-in games, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament really gets going on Thursday with the traditional 64-team format. The chart below illustrates the build in TV audiences as March Madness 2014 rolled out.  Each bar represents one of 67 telecasts in the playoff format, from the “First Four” games on Tuesday and Wednesday (telecasts 1-4) all the way to “Final Four” games on the last Saturday (telecasts 65 and 66) and finally the National Championship on Monday in early April (telecast 67).  During the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament (32 games, 4 games per day on 4 networks), the audiences peak at around 4 million on CBS and around 3 million on TNT and TBS.  TRUTV (kind of the 16th seed of cable channels) tops out around 1 million per game, generally below the deliveries of the First Four also on TRU.

And then the audiences really turn out on Saturday and Sunday for the next round (telecasts 37-52, which bring 32 teams down to 16).  Most of the CBS games are around 8 million viewers with some up to 12 million.  The TNT and TBS games, usually less attractive match-ups, remain stuck in the 3 to 4 million viewer range.  The Sweet 16 round is fairly similar in audience size to the previous round, and then the Elite 8 is mostly around 10 million.  The two Final Four games were 12 to 16 million viewers, and the National Championship concluded with 22 million viewers.

Please note the Final Four games on the last Saturday moved to cable from CBS in 2014.  Three networks simulcast the two semi-final games, with TBS carrying the main broadcast and TNT and TRU carrying “home-team” announcers.  The three network ratings are stacked together and in total they look very similar to the 2013 audiences on CBS.  (See 2013’s chart below.)

NCAA 2014 V2 Basketball Tournament Telecast Ratings

All 67 March Madness telecasts from 2013 are shown in the chart below, and it is remarkable how similar the 2014 and 2013 charts are.  Certainly there are some deviations: for example, a Round of 64 game on CBS popping above 5 million viewers, surprising only because it was #4-Michigan handling #13-South Dakota State 71-56.  But for the most part, the tournament is a very predictable audience magnet every step of the way.

NCAA 2013 V2 Basketball Tournament Telecast Ratings




About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.