March Madness ratings soar following dips for Super Bowl, Oscars

The Kansas Jayhawks hold an open practice during the 2016 March Madness basketball tournament. Image: Phil Roeder/Wikimedia Commons

The NCAA March Madness basketball tournament is seeing rising ratings in a year when other big marquee events have watched viewership fall.

According to Media Life, citing Nielsen ratings, the tournament’s opening weekend averaged 9.325 million total viewers across CBS, tru TV, TBS and TNT. That’s good enough for a 10% increase over the 8.5 million total viewers it averaged one year ago and also good enough for the best opening weekend since 1993.

In particular, ratings for tournament games on Sunday were up 34% year-over-year, pulling in 11.9 million viewers.

As the report pointed out, this uptick seems like a bit of an anomaly considering other big TV events like the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Academy Awards and big TV premieres like “Big Bang Theory” all recently experienced ratings slides.

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The boost in ratings for March Madness could spell good news for CBS, which gets to air the Final Four games this year. According to Standard Media Index, CBS saw its total ad spend fall 2.5% in January this year.

Nielsen gathered some data recently that could point toward how March Madness is able to grow its ratings while other TV events struggle. Nielsen’s recent research showed that one-third of the U.S. television audience watched at least six minutes of the tournament in 2016.

“The 73 telecasts in 2016 cumulatively reached more than 97 million people. Recognizing the opportunity to reach a large, educated and affluent audience, advertisers spent approximately $910 million on March Madness commercials in 2016,” wrote Nielsen in a blog post.

That viewership engagement and subsequent ad spending is partly due to the amount of people who fill out brackets ahead of the tournament and then follow the games to see how their predictions pan out.

An overwhelming 71% of Nielsen research respondents said they followed the games on their TVs at home, compared to only 7% who said they stream games on a phone or a tablet.