The first NCAA Men's Basketball championship game shown exclusively on cable averaged just 17.8 million viewers, down a whopping 37 percent from last year's March Madness title game, which was shown by broadcaster CBS.
Despite what was arguably the most exciting game in NCAA title-game history, decided when Villanova's Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer, the contest shown on all three Turner Networks channels (TNT, TBS and truTV) was the lowest rated March Madness championship match since 2009.
Turner splits March Madness rights with CBS Corp., sharing a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA. Turner gets the final two rounds of the tournament in even-numbered years.
For Turner, the ratings for its "Final Four" semifinal coverage compared even less favorably to CBS' 2015 metrics.
Over the weekend, in the semi-final rounds, Turner's presentation of North Carolina's win over Syracuse averaged 10.1 million viewers, while only 8.3 million watched Villanova crush Oklahoma.
Last year, in its Final Four coverage, CBS averaged 16.8 million viewers for Wisconsin's epic upset of Kentucky, and 11.1 million watchers for Duke's win over Michigan State.
The ratings performances are being watched closely by programmers and pay-TV operators alike, who are concerned about the impact of moving major sports events exclusively into the pay-TV ecosystem.
The recent basketball games might not deliver a conclusive answer.
In January, ESPN saw a 15 percent drop in average audience for its broadcast of college football's championship game, featuring Alabama beating Clemson. However, in January 2015, ESPN averaged an impressive 33.4 million viewers for Ohio State's upset of Oregon.
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